Which is it: Big Tobacco or Big Oil?

I don’t mean to harp on Facebook. I know I’ve written about them for the last two weeks, and I swear I wouldn’t keep at it if I didn’t sincerely believe them to be a clear and present danger to our way of life. By that, I mean the Silicon Valley way, which entails allowing new and clever young companies to thrive and be competitive. Facebook’s most egregious recent move is asking for regulation of the Internet. It is easy for them to ask for regulation, now that they have formed a cozy duopoly with Google that allows them to control citizen data and advertising dollars. The most recent earnings report demonstrated that dominance in spades.

Last week, I alluded to Facebook becoming more like tobacco and oil companies. But this week, I have made a decision: They are very much like Big Oil. Just as every time there is a big oil spill or similar industrial disaster, these companies pony up billions of dollars for fines, put out apologetic press releases, and talk about their future efforts for clean energy. But as soon as the media circus moves on, it is business as usual. Big Oil has spent enough lobbying dollars to write the rules in its favor.

Facebook is doing the same. It will agree to pay a big fine — $3 to $5 billion according to some estimates. Politico reports that, as part of the settlement, the FTC will get to appoint a “federally approved privacy official at the social network” and create “an ‘independent’ privacy oversight committee,” which ironically will “include Facebook board members”— and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg would be “designated compliance officer” for privacy policies.

If you are the CEO, you are the man responsible for everything, privacy policies included. So why is this even part of a deal? And doesn’t this sound like the fox guarding the henhouse? If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me lose my shit a few nights ago. The whole settlement is happening in private, without any input from citizens — also known as the people whose data is at the center of the whole controversy. There is no transparency in the process, and the long-term impact is not clear. Most importantly, I am left wondering: Is the FTC working for Facebook or for the citizens?

This first appeared on my May 5, 2019, weekly newsletter. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.

A letter from Om

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