Feb 18, 2020 - Technology

Europe nixes Facebook's plea for friendly rules

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook is doubling down on its big pitch to lawmakers across the globe: regulate us.

Yes, but: Key regulators aren't buying it. Hours after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with lawmakers in Europe to discuss the company's new proposals for regulation, a French commissioner overseeing the EU's data strategy rejected the plan, saying "It’s not enough. It’s too slow, it’s too low in terms of responsibility and regulation."

Why it matters: Facebook hopes that by embracing the push for regulation, it can build more trust with policymakers and better influence future regulation in its favor. But so far policymakers are wary of Facebook's attempts to help write its own rules.

Driving the news: In an op-ed in the Financial Times Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for more regulation around four key areas: transparency around content moderation, political ads, openness around data sharing, and oversight and accountability.

"I believe good regulation may hurt Facebook’s business in the near term but it will be better for everyone, including us, over the long term."
— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an op-ed in the Financial Times

Zuckerberg's op-ed teased Facebook's second white paper out Monday which lays out questions regulators may want to consider when thinking about ways to craft regulation. He noted that the company is currently working with governments, including in France and New Zealand, on what regulation could look like.

  • Flashback: Facebook's first white paper of this kind last year laid out questions for regulators around privacy and data portability, specifically.

Details: The paper lays out 4 key questions that Facebook thinks policymakers should ask while crafting regulation for tech companies. The questions address topics that Facebook grapples with itself when trying to create its own policies.

  • How can content regulation best achieve the goal of reducing harmful speech while preserving free expression?
  • How can regulations enhance the accountability of internet platforms?
  • Should regulation require internet companies to meet certain performance targets?
  • Should regulation define which “harmful content” should be prohibited on the internet?

The paper also lays out "principles" that it thinks future regulators should address, like "incentives" for tech companies to balance their own corporate priorities with societal values.

Yes, but: The white paper, as well as previous comments from the tech giant, make it clear that Facebook is making suggestions for regulation that support its current policies and practices, because that's what it thinks works best.

  • For example, in speaking about "incentives," Facebook says that companies "could be incentivized to meet specific targets such as keeping the prevalence of violating content below some agreed threshold."
  • This type of proposal favors policies Facebook is already putting in place. The company says that improvements to its machine learning and technology have dramatically reduced the amount of bad content on its platform.

Our thought bubble: Facebook's bigger problem today lies in addressing the problematic content that its rules permit. If it can get its current policies baked into international regulations, critics will find it harder to fault Facebook's choices for where to set boundaries for acceptable content.

Be smart: Asking for regulation also serves as a helpful reminder to consumers that U.S. lawmakers have done little themselves to address the complicated issues that are much bigger than Facebook, things like privacy, data sharing and political ads.

The big picture: The press blitz comes just days ahead of the U.S. Justice Department's workshop on a critical law that protects Facebook business model, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Bottom line: Facebook has spent the past three years on defense, apologizing to regulators for policies that left its platform vulnerable to election abuse, fraud and privacy violations and defending its policies for empowering free speech. Now, it's going on the offense, asking repeatedly for more regulations but aiming to shape those rules to its wishes.

What's next: Facebook says it plans to publish similar white papers on elections and privacy in the coming months.

Go deeper

Facebook offers up to $5 for voice recordings to train speech recognition

Facebook logo. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is offering users up to $5 via PayPal to record themselves saying "Hey Portal" and then list the first names of no more than 10 Facebook friends, The Verge reports and Axios has confirmed.

The big picture: Facebook is pitching users a small amount of money in exchange for personal data to train its speech recognition tech after reports that it and other Big Tech companiesGoogle, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon — have listened to their users for that reason without consent.

Privacy group says Facebook isn't sharing all off-platform data with users

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Facebook is now offering users a feature that lets them see what data it has collected about their activities beyond Facebook, but a new report from Privacy International says that not all the advertisers that have uploaded individual user data to Facebook are included.

Why it matters: As the report notes, without more complete information, it is hard for users to fully exercise their rights under the EU's GDPR and other privacy laws.

"Facebook: The Inside Story" paints a revealing portrait of the tech giant

Penguin Random House

Tech writer Steven Levy's new book, "Facebook: The Inside Story," goes on sale on Tuesday. He told Axios his reporting for the 583-page tome, which he started working on in 2015, took a dramatic turn after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and revelations following the 2016 election.

Why it matters: Since Levy already had a seat inside the company when its broader problems arose, he was on the frontlines as Facebook scrambled to address an onslaught of challenges posed by policymakers in Washington and elsewhere.