This week, amid leaked documents and criticism from both politicians and billionaires, Facebook has faced new challenges across three familiar issue areas — anti-competitive acquisitions, content moderation, and privacy violations.
- Antitrust: Regulators have new evidence demonstrating Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could be considered anti-competitive and thereby warrant divestment. On Wednesday, a collection of internal Facebook documents leaked, including email chains between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and various Facebook execs, NBC reported. In the emails, the executives repeatedly called the messaging app WhatsApp a threat to Facebook and its own chat app Facebook Messenger in the month leading up to the 2014 acquisition of the company. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly reached out to the founders of WhatsApp as part of its probe into Facebook’s anti-competitive practices but no meeting has been scheduled as of yet.
- Content moderation: In an interview, Bill Gates called for a reassessment of how narrowly political advertisers can target Facebook users — a key functionality for most Facebook marketers. During the New York Times Dealbook conference, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was asked in an interview about his feelings on political advertising on the social media platform. Gates, after siding with Facebook on its non-censorship position, recommended limitations on how political ads are targeted. If the public conversation about political advertising begins to shift away from Facebook’s censorship practices to its targeting capabilities, that could pose a more direct threat to Facebook’s bottom line than previous changes. Just last week, the Filter Bubble Transparency Act was introduced in the Senate, which would mandate internet platforms to notify people when they are seeing personalized content.
- Data privacy: Facebook may face another series of financial penalties for privacy violations following failures to comply with requests from state governments. The Attorney General of California alleges that Facebook has failed to comply with subpoenas for documents related to privacy disclosures and third-party access to user data in a new lawsuit filed Wednesday. Despite previous penalties, Facebook is still struggling to meet the expectations and requests of federal and state regulators. Facebook was already fined $5 billion by the FTC for violating consumer privacy rights in July — the largest penalty the body had ever imposed. And just last week in a similar case in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office fined Facebook approximately $643,000 dollars for failing to keep user information secure from the actions of Cambridge Analytica.
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