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Facebook and the Corporate Ransacking of America

Linked by Paul Ciano on April 24, 2018

Jason Koebler, Motherboard:

Congress has spent the last decade systematically squashing privacy as a core American value. Privacy protections have gotten worse, not better: CISA, the CLOUD Act, and FISA reauthorization have allowed the federal government to suck up data from platforms like Facebook. Last year, Congress voted to allow ISPs to sell consumer information to the highest bidder.

A revolving door between big corporations, lobbying firms, Congress, and regulatory agencies have allowed big companies to dismantle regulations from within. Ajit Pai, the current head of the FCC, is a former Verizon lobbyist; Scott Pruitt, the man running the EPA, spent most of his career suing the EPA and rented his DC apartment from a lobbyist; the Treasury Secretary is an investment banker.

The Citizens United decision has allowed corporations to funnel money to super PACs that can use unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Corporations in all industries have been given near limitless authority to purchase, merge, and consolidate with their competitors.

Our total system failure enabled Facebook, which in turn enabled Cambridge Analytica, but it has also enabled Google, Apple, Amazon, and Uber, which have all been working on their own forms of regulatory and legislative capture at the local, state, and national levels. Google has spent record sums on lobbying. Apple is lobbying against pro-consumer right to repair legislation at a state level and often hides behind trade groups to do its lobbying work. Amazon has risen to prominence with government subsidies and is currently holding a local government handout sweepstakes to choose the location of its next headquarters. Uber ignores local regulations, then gets laws rewritten when it is sanctioned.

The same systemic failures have allowed Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to steal net neutrality from us, corner ISP markets around the country, and entrench their monopolies with lobbyist-written legislation passed by the lawmakers they donate to. The system that allowed Shell, BP, and Exxon to destroy our planet also allowed Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and other financial institutions to wreck the global economy. It’s allowed gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association to kill any meaningful gun control reform.

Facebook and thousands of other corporations are beholden largely to their shareholders and their bottom lines; it’s easy to play by the rules when there are no rules, or they aren’t enforced, or you’ve written the rules yourself.

…Facebook, like many big companies, has made its money by fundamentally relying on an information asymmetry advantage. Corporations and their armies of lawyers know more about their products, the law, regulations, the political process, and their business models than any one person could ever hope to.

It is unreasonable to expect the average person to have somehow predicted Facebook’s business model a decade ago, before Facebook even had a business model. It is unreasonable to expect the average person to understand the myriad ways they are tracked on and off the site. It is unreasonable to expect people who are not technologists or lawyers to understand how a product engineered by thousands of technologists and lawyers would one day screw them over.

What has happened, then, is a group of greedy companies–armed with gobs of cash, technologists, lawyers, lobbyists, and an edict to “break things”–have ransacked America, torn down any semblance of regulatory structure, experimented on our psyches, and undermined the institutions that are supposed to protect us.

Undoing the damage that late-stage capitalism and corporate America has wrought on us is perhaps the most important challenge this generation will face. If we’re going to talk about fixing Facebook, let’s start there.

Paul Ciano

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