Market Dominance and Privacy

By on January 19th, 2018 in Blog Post, Privacy & Security

A new tactic to address privacy issues is being pursued in Europe. This is the use of laws addressing market dominance or monopoly power as a path to limit abuses of big data. In Germany, this effort is the basis for raising questions about Facebook. “Is Facebook using it’s power as the dominant social media network in Germany to strong-arm users into allowing them to collect data about them from third-party sources with “like” buttons?”¬†The EU is dealing with a similar question. Can “firms holding big data — ranging from Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc. to German car maker BMW AG — exclude new competitors if they control exclusive information that can serve to win customers or cut costs?

The underlying issue in both cases is the tension between big data collection that can drive marketing and even political campaigns, and the awareness or concurrence of the general public about the collection and use of this data. Many folks don’t realize that those promotional icons (upper right on this site) for Facebook, Linkedin, and such are also web-beacons used to track where you go on the web. Even if you are not a user of Facebook, etc., they can use that icon to identify that a person on your computer went to this site. Then the next site you access can be collected, and so forth. Obviously the “must have” social media connections also become the “market dominance” collectors of web use data. Needless to say your browser, search engine, and ISP already have all of your Internet “foot prints” available for uses as permitted by their current privacy policies.

Facebook is an interesting example for many reasons. The company has been a focal point in discussions related to influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, challenged with issues related to “fake news,” associated with social media addiction, and with billions of users — millions on line at any time, clearly in the cross hairs of these concerns.¬†Marc Zuckerberg has released a white paper addressing some of his concerns and what he says Facebook should do. His annual personal challenge for 2018 is a vow to “fix Facebook.” Facebook has made “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. … The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against¬†interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

It is unclear if Zukerberg’s New Year’s resolution will resolve all of the issues being raised by Germany, the E.U., and the U.S. Congress with respect to Facebook, but his acknowledgement of the need to address some of these issues is a significant step in addressing both market dominance issues and also the challenges emerging at the intersection of technology and society.