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Ever since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress in May 2018 over the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, things have gone steadily downhill for Facebook. Government regulators around the world – not just in the United States – are now holding Facebook accountable for data privacy lapses and violations, with the FTC recently levying a massive $5 billion fine against the company for privacy violations. And now comes even worse news for Mark Zuckerberg – Washington lawmakers led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) are putting together legislation that would hold top executives personally accountable for user privacy violations, with the prospect of jail time for any executives found lying about their company’s privacy practices.
The Silicon Valley perp walk
Think about that for a moment – imagine CEO Mark Zuckerberg being marched away from Facebook headquarters in handcuffs by the FBI and doing a “perp walk,” the same way that Wall Street executives used to be forced to do a “perp walk” a generation ago in the most high-profile securities fraud cases. The legislation – known as the Mind Your Own Business Act – still needs to be passed, of course, but the very fact that U.S. politicians are even seriously considering the prospect of jail time for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg is telling, It is yet one more sign that the fast and loose era of personal privacy is over for Facebook.
Somehow, politicians have finally figured out the business model of the big tech giants – the selling and trafficking of personal data for immense profit – and have decided to put an end to this game. As a result, the potentially landmark Mind Your Own Business Act, announced by Sen. Ron Wyden in October, includes three basic provisions. The first is that consumers must be able to control their own personal information. The second is that companies must provide true transparency about their use and share consumer data. And the third is that corporate executives must be held personally responsible for the privacy practices of their companies.
Viability of Facebook’s business model in question
Put it all together, and it raises serious questions about the ongoing viability of the business models of top social media companies. Until recently, Internet users were perfectly happy with a “free” version of Facebook. If a company like Facebook is forced to offer a “paid” version (as the Mind Your Own Business Act requires) with full privacy protection, are consumers really going to pay $9.99 per month (or whatever price Facebook decides to charge for its product) for a Facebook subscription, the same way that they pay for a Netflix subscription? Probably not.
A battle on Capitol Hill
Of course, there’s a big “if” here. If the bill passes, it could mean jail time for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. But you can imagine that the big tech giants are already mobilizing their teams of lawyers, lobbyists and trade associations to fight this every step of the way on Capitol Hill. By the time the legislation gets out of the U.S. Congress, you can bet that it will be at least somewhat watered down, with all manner of exceptions and loopholes. But still, think about it – if you thought the Mark Zuckerberg “congressional hearings” memes were amusing, a Mark Zuckerberg “perp walk” meme would be priceless.