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Analysis | The Technology 202: Facebook says current privacy laws are ‘insufficient’ – The Washington Post

Analysis | The Technology 202: Facebook says current privacy laws are 'insufficient' - The Washington Post

with Tonya Riley

Countries around the world are getting tougher on privacy regulation. And Facebook is moving to steer the debate so the rules are written on its terms. 

The social network today released its latest white paper, a 29-page document calling current privacy practices and laws “insufficient.” The company says the paper is intended to spark greater debate about how the tech industry can inform people about its use of their data and move beyond convoluted privacy policies or notifications about cookies that pop up so frequently they make people’s eyes glaze over. 

“I think we can all agree that obviously policies are probably not the best way of communicating about privacy,” said Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, told me in an interview.“But also there’s little consensus on how to do that.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote speech at F8, Facebook’s developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The company lays out in the paper some of the tensions it sees for businesses and regulators on privacy issues. On the one hand the company gets criticism that these policies are too long, Sherman says, but it’s also trying to ensure it’s making all the disclosures required to under a complex web of international laws and regulations.

The paper calls for greater collaboration between regulators and companies to develop and test new ways for people to learn more about the use of their data by the giant social media platform, which has been criticized – especially surrounding Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 election – when third parties improperly obtained data of Facebook users without their knowledge.

Facebook is trying to shape itself as more privacy friendly.

The company was required to make major changes to its business in the year since it reached a historic $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission to end a privacy investigation. Now Facebook is hoping its forced education in improving privacy can be useful to policy advocates and regulators. 

“Hopefully some of that is useful to policymakers as they’re making decisions about how to regulate privacy,” Sherman said. “Our goal is not to try to write a law that would regulate us. There are other people that will do that. We want to certainly be a part of the discussion and give our perspective on what we think makes sense and how it would work in practice and in our environment.”

Given its spotty track record on privacy, the company is facing an uphill battle in rebuilding relationships with regulators and consumer advocates. But Sherman says Facebook has aggressively invested and hired privacy experts over the last year, adding every new product the company builds now goes through a comprehensive privacy review. 

“Culturally its become very clear across Facebook that privacy is something that is essentially important for business,” Sherman told me. “If people dont trust us to safeguard their data, they wont feel comfortable using our services.” 

Facebook’s report arrives as countries around the world, including Australia, are cracking down on data collection. California began enforcing its new state privacy law earlier this month, which could reinvigorate the privacy debate in the United States. 

This isn’t the first time that Facebook released a white paper. The company published one earlier this year on content moderation, another contentious issue in Washington.

The coronavirus pandemic could create new privacy challenges.

Facebook was planning to release the paper before the coronavirus pandemic intensified when privacy issues were a greater focus on the presidential campaign trail and on Capitol Hill. But now the debate is shifting, especially as data plays a critical role in the coronavirus response and people are spending more time using online services while staying at home. 

One recent bipartisan privacy proposal, which my colleague Tony Romm detailed, aimed to ensure new digital tools meant to combat the coronavirus don’t come at the expense of user privacy.

Sherman says the pandemic is testing some of the company’s transparency and privacy work, especially as the platform seeks ways to use its data for the coronavirus response. The social network has had to communicate with users about some of its new covid-19 tools, such as providing aggregated data about its users to public health officials about the virus’s spread. The company is also working with Carnegie Mellon researchers to gather covid-19 symptom data. 

“There’s also a really core responsibility that comes along with that, both to use data responsibly and also to communicate effectively with people about how their data is being used,” Sherman said. 

Welcome to The Technology 202, our guide to the intersection of technology and politics.

Our top tabs

Google favors YouTube over other videos in search results — and thats no accident. 


Engineers at Google made changes that intentionally drive users to YouTube, which it owns, over other streaming services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In searches for the same video that appeared on different platforms, Googles homepage carousel showed YouTube results first 95 percent of the time, WSJ found. In comparison, a Facebook Watch version of the same videos showed up first just 5 percent of the time.

Google spokeswoman Lara Levin denied Google search gives preference to YouTube or any other video service.  

Allegations it prioritizes its own business over competitors could add to the heavy antitrust scrutiny the company is already under.

Googles chief executive Sundar Pichai is set to testify later this month alongside the chief executives of Amazon, Facebook and Apple at a House Judiciary Committee hearing about competition in the tech industry.

Apple and IBM joined the White House in a campaign to encourage Americans to retrain for new jobs.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, presidential adviser Ivanka Trump and IBM Executive Chairman Ginni Rometty. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

The “Find Something New” ad campaign also encourages employers to move away from degree-based requirements to focus on skills, Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs at Bloomberg report

The Ad Council is sponsoring the initiative, which builds off ongoing work by the White House American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which counts Apple chief executive Tim Cook and IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty as members. Twenty private-sector organizations, including Home Depot and Lockheed Martin, backed the campaign. 

“Now, as a result of covid, people need to, unfortunately, in some cases learn a completely new skill, but that is also an opportunity to be put on a new trajectory,” said Ivanka Trump, senior aide to the president, at a virtual roundtable about the initiative.

“We believe that, with the right tools, people have the power to change their lives and the lives of their families for the better,” Cook said during the webinar. 

But the campaign has already received criticism for being insensitive to the millions of workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, Hamza Shaban reports

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called the ad campaign “insulting.”

Finding a job so you and your family can eat isn’t a hobby. This is an insult to the victims of Donald Trump’s incompetence. https://t.co/TeeAOUGRxP

— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) July 14, 2020

Other tech companies have turned to reskilling programs to avoid layoffs. Verizon announced a pledge to prepare 500,000 lower-wage and minority workers for new jobs with job-skills training by 2030, CNN reports. The company has already retained about 20,000 of its workers for new careers to avoid pandemic layoffs.

The tech industry scored a victory as the Trump administration rescinded controversial limits on international students. 

Harvard Business School. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Major tech companies supported a lawsuit from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which challenged the administrations proposal to bar international students from remaining in the United States if their colleges didnt offer in-person classes. The administrations reversal settles that lawsuit, Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga report.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and 16 other technology companies and trade associations backed the brief, which was filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that alleged the policy would harm U.S. businesses. 

Some celebrated the decision yesterday. TechNet, an industry trade group, praised the move: 

Administration rescinding F-1 rules negatively impacting #students who are essential to our #economy is the right move. Our nation should always welcome the best and brightest from around the world to spur US innovation and growth. #F1

— TechNet (@TechNetUpdate) July 14, 2020

Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google, praised the decision on Twitter:

It’s great that international students will continue to be able to study and work in the United States. Their talent, motivation, and contributions benefit all of us.https://t.co/0BwMJYt9jg

— Kent Walker (@Kent_Walker) July 14, 2020

Rant and rave

Airbnb had a rough day on Twitter after a user flagged that the company was asking customers to send their favorite hosts “kindness cards” with an optional donation. 

The stunt was the perfect storm of Internet ire toward gig companies and landlords:

Logging on to send a ~kindness card~ to people who *checks notes* own multiple properties?

Talking specifically about this host, she had her friend meet us & I never actually heard from her. I mean fine, but as a job it’s like printing money.

Top tier trolling @Airbnb! pic.twitter.com/h0kOvBgijX

— Kimberley🌹 (@kimberleyhomer) July 14, 2020

Others suggested that the billion-dollar company should handle its own goodwill toward hosts:

Lol AirBnB just sent me an email to send a ‘kindness card’ to a host I stayed with 18 months ago. Um, you can do your own host PR tyvm.

— Matt Blank (@msbutah) June 29, 2020

Hill happenings

A Democrat is calling Apple and Google to require apps to disclose where they store data.

(Danish Siddiqui/Illustration/Reuters)

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, sent letters to Apple and Google saying the companies are responsible for making consumers aware of potential security risks posed by the apps.

Neither company requires developers to disclose in which countries their data is stored. 

Intelligence officials have warned that foreign applications could be compelled to share U.S. user data depending on local laws. Some lawmakers and officials have pointed to the concern in advocating for restrictions on TikTok and other Chinese apps. (TikTok says it does not store U.S. user data in China.)

Lynch also asks the companies to provide details on any instances in which they removed an app for sharing personal data with a foreign government. 

Workforce report

Massachusetts sued Uber and Lyft for allegedly misclassifying drivers as contractors.

(Richard Vogel/AP)

It is the second state after California to sue the companies over their worker status, Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi report.  

Like in California, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is asking the court to rule that the drivers are employees under state law and force the court to prevent the companies from denying drivers employee benefits.

“They have been playing this game for years,” Healey said in a video announcing the lawsuit.  “Uber and Lyft set the rates. They alone set the rules. Drivers are employees.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which has left many ride-share drivers with reduced work, has spurred growing demand for gig workers to provide their workers with benefits.

“Not only is it unfair and exploitative. Its illegal,” she said.

ANNOUNCING: We are suing @Uber and @Lyft for misclassifying their drivers.

Billion-dollar businesses don’t get to pick and choose which laws they follow. Tune in for our live press conference at 11AM here: https://t.co/ONVUH6HNBr pic.twitter.com/Xlm7tv82Yn

— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) July 14, 2020

Uber will contest the action in court, spokesman Matt Kallman told the New York Times. Lyft spokewoman Julie Woods said the lawsuit could lead to the elimination of more than 50,000 jobs.

More workforce news:

Trump tracker

Trump is taking credit for the U.K.’s decision to ban Huawei from its 5G networks.

President Trump speaks during a news conference on July 14. (Tasos Katopodis/UPI/Bloomberg News)

The president’s boast came after the United Kingdom reversed an earlier decision that would have allowed the Chinese firm to build less-sensitive parts of its 5G network. 

I did this myself, for the most part, Trump said at a news conference. Its a big security risk. I talked many countries out of using it.

The British government expects its 5G network to be totally Huawei-free by 2027 because it will be a lengthy and costly process for British companies to shed all their Huawei gear. The decision came after a U.S. ban on foreign firms selling computer chips made with U.S. equipment to Huawei.

More Trump news:



  • The House Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the need for federal investments in technology in light of the coronavirus pandemic today at 2 p.m.
  • The Center for Democracy and Technology will host an event, “A Shared Responsibility: Protecting Consumer Health Data Privacy in an Increasingly Connected World” today at 4 p.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion with former Google chairman and chief executive Eric Schmidt about technology, data and innovation policy on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce subcommittee on manufacturing, trade, and consumer protection will hold a hearing on protecting Americans from coronavirus scams on July 21 at 2:30 p.m.

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