Will Facebook's troubles cost Africans? No one wants social media firms to mine their data without consent, but greater regulation could have unintended consequences.

Author:Raji, Rafiq
Position:ANALYSIS
 
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In April, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg endured two days of gruelling scrutiny by the US Congress. He came out of it largely unruffled. There was not much that Zuckerberg revealed that was not already known. But coming from the horse's mouth. Zuckerberg's responses were instructive.

"In general we collect data on people who are not signed up for Facebook for security reasons," Zuckerberg said in reply to a question by Ben Lujan, a member of Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Lujan replied almost in rebuke: "You've said everyone controls their data, but you are collecting data on people that are not even Facebook users who have never signed a consent, a privacy agreement."

Zuckerberg did not seem bothered: he justified the act by saying it was done for security purposes. Before the hearings, it emerged that not only did Facebook improperly share the data of somewhere between 30m and 87m of its users with Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm involved in Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, but that there were many more such firms and individuals doing similar or perhaps worse things.

Leader of the not-so-free world

Before Zuckerberg's testimony on the first day of the hearings, an army of photographers took pictures of him from every angle. Not even Trump or Fed chairman Jerome Powell get that level of attention these days. Some commentators say that the most powerful person in the world may no longer be the person with the codes to the world's largest and most lethal nuclear arsenal or the person able to sway global markets just by opening his mouth but the unassuming t-shirt-wearing founder of a social media website.

How the world has changed. Zuckerberg may have to appear before many more committees. The United Kingdom and European Union (EU) have requested that Zuckerberg appear in person before their legislative bodies, for instance.

The EU also has its eyes set on other tech firms. The EU's justice commissioner Vera Jourova, put it this way to CNBC, an American television network, in mid-April: "I don't have doubts that there are some bad practices among other IT providers and networks. So what I have said about GDPR [the EU's General Data Protection Regulation] and our serious intention to have the data of all people protected ... applies to everybody, it's not only related to Facebook."

The GDPR may become the global model for regulating tech firms that collect personal data and earn income by...

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