Zuck On The Hill

Mark Zuckerberg and President Trump

Mr. Zuckerberg went to Washington yesterday for private meetings with the President and several lawmakers. The meetings were private and Mr. Zuckerberg did not answer questions about specifics. However, according to the WSJ, Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) challenged Facebook’s CEO saying, “Prove that you’re serious… sell WhatsApp, and sell Instagram.” There is only hearsay about Mr. Zuckerberg’s reaction.

I bring this to your attention so that I can ask you to take a moment to understand the broader technical issue which as become quite politicized.

The doing of life generates about 2 EB of data per hour worldwide. Some of that data needs to be collected in order for our technology to function. How and what should be done with the required data and, as importantly, the surplus behavioral data is the question that our elected leaders should be concentrating on.

It is dangerously naive to believe that breaking up Facebook or Google or any other big tech company will somehow magically solve the societal issues we are facing due to the insane use and misuse of big data.

It doesn’t matter if there is one Facebook, one Google, one Twitter, one (your favorite data-rich, big tech company name goes here) or if there are 50 of them. Unless there is serious regulation applied to the collection and usage of data, having a combined Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp or having three separate organizations won’t change a thing. Counterintuitively, you could argue that the concentration of big data in a few big tech organizations would make it easier to manage and regulate.

What should that regulation look like? It would need to focus on the marketplace for data being used for behavioral manipulation and the subjugation of what we generally define as our free will. We’ve seen this manifest in the formation of digital echo chambers and the advent of the post-truth era. But these societal issues are Second-Order effects of the marketplace for surplus data (data that organizations collect, but don’t really need, so they sell it), AI bias (not the AI bias you think you understand, the AI bias you know nothing about – reach out, it’s a complex issue), proxy data, and the remarkable lack of feedback loops to help algorithms learn, etc.

Looking at 21st-century big tech through the lens of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 makes no sense. To legislate this issue lawmakers are going to need a new framework that looks at data in the context of machine intelligence and connected consumers, not antitrust. I am not optimistic that Congress is up to the task.

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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