Facebook needs a facelift - The Mail & Guardian

Facebook needs a facelift - Steven Hill thinks 'digital operating permits' could be the key to reining in tech giants and protecting their users.

2021-10-16 07:01:00 PM

Facebook needs a facelift - Steven Hill thinks 'digital operating permits' could be the key to reining in tech giants and protecting their users.

The free market has never been a free-for-all, yet tech companies have long operated with few constraints on their business models. Perhaps the latest Facebook scandal will finally provide the impetus governments need to take effective action.

of whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, before a US Senate subcommittee told us anything, it was that tech companies cannot be relied upon to regulate themselves. And why should they be? It is a basic principle of modern economics that governments mandate the terms of operation for business. The real question is how governments can best exercise this authority when it comes to the tech sector.

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Facebook, Google, Amazon and other tech companies have been allowed to develop unprecedented surveillance-based business models that include relentless capture of personal data, including geographic locations, and the manipulation of users with hyper-targeted content. And yet, as Haugen testified, “almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook”. The KGB would have been envious.

But tech companies also serve a useful purpose. They have built much of the public infrastructure of the digital age, including search engines, global portals for news and social networking, GPS-based navigation apps, online commercial and job marketplaces, and movie, music and live-streaming platforms. headtopics.com

To enable digital platforms to continue performing a beneficent role while minimising their harm, governments should require them to secure digital operating licences. There is plenty of precedent for this: from grocery stores to nuclear power plants to pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, traditional businesses must be granted various licences and permits before they can begin operations, not least to ensure the safety of workers, customers, the environment and the local community.

Likewise, to be granted a digital operating licence, tech companies would have to meet certain conditions. The first would be to obtain users’ explicit permission before collecting any personal data, using an “opt-in” consent system instead of an “opt-out” system that must be periodically renewed.

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