Recently, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren put forward the idea to reverse certain tech mergers to promote healthy competition in the market, particularly including Facebook and Instagram. In an op-ed shared today by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, that topic is revisited (via The New York Times).
According to Hughes, the Federal Trade Commission’s “biggest mistake” was letting Facebook acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. As the co-founder pointed out, many people left Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but they didn’t leave the Facebook ecosystem altogether because of Instagram and WhatsApp, with some people unaware that Facebook owned these social networks.
First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years.
How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares.
In the years since its acqusitions, the founders of both Instagram and WhatsApp have left each company, reportedly due to clashing with Mark Zuckerberg and his management of their apps. Hughes described an informal slogan that became well-known in the Facebook offices in the wake of its launch of the “Stories” format on Instagram and Facebook: “Don’t be too proud to copy.”
The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared. This means there’s less chance of start-ups developing healthier, less exploitative social media platforms. It also means less accountability on issues like privacy.
Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power. The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.
Although the Cambridge Analytica scandal has passed, in 2019 Facebook continued to appear in headlines regarding data breaches and user privacy issues. In April alone, it was reported that Facebook’s executive team used the data of its users as leverage over partner companies; two days later it emerged that Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent and used the data to build a web of their social connections.
That same day, Facebook confirmed that millions of Instagram passwords were stored on its servers in plain text with no encryption. Similar stories have been shared frequently since news broke about about the Cambridge Analytica scandal just over one year ago.
Amid all of the news, Facebook today announced the launch of a new feature for Stories called “Birthday Stories.” Using this ability, friends and family members can add digital birthday cards, photos, or video messages to your Birthday Story, which will be visible at the top of the Facebook iOS app like other Stories.
The feature will be available in the birthday notification that pops up when a friend is celebrating their big day. From there, you’ll be able to take a photo or video, share a music sticker on the Story, and more. Once multiple people have added to the Birthday Story, the person in question will be able to browse it like any traditional Facebook or Instagram Story.
The company said that its goal with the new update was expanding on existing birthday features on Facebook, while also continuing to push interaction with Stories. It’s been over two years since Facebook Stories began rolling out to users, and nearly three years since Instagram first copied the Stories format from Snapchat.
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