Silicon Valley Giants Must Be Held Accountable

The following op-ed was posted in the Anchorage Daily News on April 11, 2018:  https://www.adn.com/opinions/2018/04/11/silicon-valley-giants-must-be-held-accountable-in-alaska-and-everywhere-else/

In July of 2017, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Homer and posted pictures of his time spent with salmon fishermen in the area. While his trip was meant to show his desire to learn more about Alaska, we now know that Zuckerberg and Facebook knew a lot about Alaskans before even stepping foot in our state – and they’ve been sharing that information with others.

Last month, Facebook revealed it had shared the personal data of over 50 million users without their knowledge. While this is the highest profile example of such recklessness, other companies have been acting just as duplicitously for years. Twitter has been silencing conservatives online using tools such as “shadow banning” – the act of blocking someone without them realizing it –  and Google, a company millions of Americans turn to daily, has been collecting our personal information to a shocking degree. These companies have been censoring speech online, misusing user data, and abdicating any responsibility for their actions. It’s time to hold them accountable.

Accountability is a foreign word to many in Silicon Valley. For years, President Obama’s internet regulations did nothing to stop tech companies from silencing your voice or stealing your data.

In fact, they’ve allowed them to run wild and not be held to the same standard as others involved in the technology and telecommunications sphere. Twitter has been particularly hypocritical, even “shadow banning” Donald Trump in 2016 for a totally innocuous tweet calling out “special interests.” YouTube, which is owned by Google, is facing a lawsuit from the nonprofit PragerU for restricting their videos online on subjects such as the Iraq War and free speech on college campuses. Facebook, one of the largest abusers of these practices, has banned everyone from Catholics to comics.

On privacy, Facebook’s new scandal has brought to light what many users have long suspected: Silicon Valley giants are using and abusing our information to get ahead. Facebook’s recent scandal revealed they can’t be trusted to handle our information, and Mark Zuckerberg’s apology tour will do little to cover up their mismanagement. Alaskans have reason to be suspicious of other tech companies too. Google, for example, tracks everything from barometric pressure to the GPS coordinates of Android phone users.

As it stands today, the double standard applied to Silicon Valley is making its way through Congress via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which exempts companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google from having to protect their users. This legislation gives a free pass to the companies that we now know are out of control.

This measure is not what Alaskans need in the wake of Facebook’s new data scandal. Our federal delegation in Congress should be holding these Silicon Valley monopolies accountable, not making carve-outs and exceptions for them. Republican or Democrat, we all agree that the rules governing the internet need to be consistent for both sides. In that same sense, the rules governing social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google should be the ones internet service providers (ISPs) follow. Measures being considered by lawmakers in Juneau to codify Obama-era net neutrality rules won’t cut it either. A patchwork, state-by-state approach will only muddy the waters on these complicated issues.

While some in Congress are focused on the CRA, they are missing an opportunity to right these wrongs. As this process continues, Senator Lisa Murkowski should take note and not let Silicon Valley stomp on Alaskans’ basic freedoms online.