‘Facebook, Google, Twitter won’t be reined in by Trump order’

The world’s mighty digital platforms will be reined in only when privacy regulation knocks their business model of “uninhibited data collection” which in turn will erode their margins, and it’s unlikely that firestorms over content policy regulation will spark major change, co-director of the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project at Harvard Kennedy School told IANS.

“If you were to institute this privacy regulation that says, no Facebook, no Google, no longer can you take whatever data you want without checking with the user, you will see opt-in rates drop drastically,” Dr. Dipayan Ghosh said.

Ghosh’s comments come against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s recent executive order that escalates his war against digital platforms. Trump’s order targets current law that protects internet companies from lawsuits based on user posts.

Trump whipped out his executive order after Twitter put fact checks on two of his tweets. Twitter tagged Trump’s tweets with a warning that Trump violated the platform’s rules by glorifying violence when he suggested protesters in Minneapolis could be shot. Trump’s tweets came in the midst of violent protests over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who was pinned to the pavement and pleaded for air as a white police officer slammed his knee onto Floyd’s neck.

Debate is swirling around digital platforms’ role in content policing as misinformation on coronavirus rages on, the 2020 US presidential election looms and angry protesters spill out onto America’s streets, protesting police brutality.

Content moderation is not the “hill to die ona, according to Ghosh. “Economic regulation is.”

“We shouldn’t be looking at this at surface level. We shouldn’t be reacting to the shiny object out there,” Ghosh said.

According to Ghosh, digital platforms’ will fall in line only when their business model, “focused on uninhibited data collection towards the end of behavioural profiling”, is dented in a material way.

“Facebook does that, Google does that. These companies have millions of data points on a typical user and will use machine learning to get insights from those millions of data points to try and understand the type of people that we are.”

For a more lasting solution to the pervasive data collection and profiling on digital platforms, Ghosh recommends that policy makers take “a closer look at this machine, understand how it works, try to identify the ways that it generates these negative externalities in the first place and perhaps curtail some business practices that contributed to those negatives.”

Ghosh pushes back against the idea that it’s okay for companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to carry on as if they have “unilateral economic authority to kind of do whatever it pleases to the consumer situation.”

Ghosh contends that the right approach is to “rebalance and redistribute the power between the corporate and the consumer.”

“That’s to say there’s information asymmetry between the corporate and the consumer, where Facebook knows very well the value of your data. But you as a consumer, don’t necessarily know the value. And you give it away.”

Ghosh is the author of a new book ‘Terms of Disservice: How Silicon Valley is Destructive by Design’, out soon.

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