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Oct. 20, 2017, 1:59 p.m.
Audience & Social

A big week for tech blowback: Regulation, broken promises, and Facebook victimhood

Among many weeks of bad press for the big tech companies, this week stands out.

The bloom has come off the rose for the big tech companies. The last few weeks have not been good to the likes of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which are taking increasing heat for their unwillingness — or inability — to grapple with the their outsize influence, particularly as it relates to the results of the 2016 presidential election. This week, however, has been particularly rough for the companies. Here are a few standout stories.

Facebook’s exemption to political ad disclosure laws is under threat. On Thursday, senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA), joined by John McCain (R-AZ), introduced the Honest Ads Act, legislation that would force Facebook and other tech companies to publicly disclose who is paying for ads that users see on their platforms. This disclosure would include who was targeted by the ads, as well as how many people saw them. More regulation usually comes as the expense of revenue, which is why the big tech companies plan to fight proposed legislations by mobilizing their own lobbyists, who are likely to focus on ways to water down any regulations.

Twitter’s broken promises: Twitter this week said it plans to redouble its efforts to keep users safe on its own platform. Those promises, however, ring a bit hollow when you realize that the company has made at least five other similar — and unfulfilled — ones in the last four years, as Axios’ Ina Fried pointed out today.

Why should anyone believe Twitter this time? According to a Twitter spokesperson, what’s different now is that Twitter has publicly published a calendar with its planned improvements. “Now — for the first time — everyone can see exactly what updates we have planned and where we’re headed, and most importantly, hold us accountable for delivering on those specific promises,” the spokesperson told Axios.

Facebook employees: “We’re the victims.” A lot of the reports about Facebook’s reaction to its recent criticism have focused on the company’s public stances, which have ranged from dismissal to outright denial. Internally, things are just as fraught. BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel talked to numerous staffers about how Facebook staffers are responding to the ongoing election tumult, and many aren’t taking it well. Some say the company is being used as a scapegoat for the election result, which they say was largely influenced by factors outside of Facebook’s control. Frustration is rampant.

The article’s kicker comes from a distraught former Facebook employee, who captures well Facebook’s core dissonance:

“There are times when people at Facebook would gloat about the power and reach of the network,” a former senior employee said. “Somebody said with a straight face to me not terribly long ago that ‘running Facebook is like running a government for the world.’ I remember thinking, ‘God, it’s really not like that at all.'”

Move slow and fix things? For years, Facebook’s “move fast and break things” mantra has been an endearing encapsulation of the company’s engineering philosophy, and a core factor to its success. But that calculus might need to change now that the company wields such immense influence over so much of society. In a leaked recording, Facebook security chief Alex Stamos said that the company needs to take security in particular more seriously. “The way that I explain to [management] is that we have the threat profile of a Northrop Grumman or a Raytheon or another defense contractor, but we run our corporate network, for example, like a college campus, almost,” he said.

Is the sun setting on Silicon Valley? Former Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris said so at a Wall Street Journal conference on Wednesday. He also argued that Google and Facebook “are more powerful than AT&T ever was,” which is why he wouldn’t be surprised to hear regulatory calls to break up the companies in the future.

Photo of dislike grafitti by zeevveez used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Oct. 20, 2017, 1:59 p.m.
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