Facebook tries to get cozy with government to protect its interests

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor
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The Internet is slowly becoming a battleground of privacy issues and other bureaucratic “red tape” regulations. Facebook, the infamous social networking site, has begun building a defense against any potential policy attacks. By luring former White House members and Congressional representatives to its communications and legal teams, the site is making an obvious move to protect itself.

Facebook’s befriending of Washington has not gone unnoticed. Many political and legal analysts applaud the company’s shift toward having more political figures on its team. “What they’re doing is pragmatic, and it’s pragmatic to do it sooner rather than later,” said Paul M. Schwartz, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a recent New York Times article. Facebook executives realize the importance of gaining connections with Washington elites; those elites are the ones who have the power to stop others from attacking Facebook with regulations and new policies.

This new policy of cozying up with Washington executives is a direct result of new Internet privacy issues.

According to a Times article, “Facebook’s march into Washington began in late 2007 shortly after its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, unveiled Beacon, a program that allowed users to see granular details of the online behavior of their Facebook ‘friends.’ Privacy experts, particularly on Capitol Hill, fumed.” It seems to me that all of Facebook’s current and future legal troubles will be a result of privacy policies. The article further stated, “The company’s growth in Washington came as the White House, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and several states separately moved to toughen Internet privacy laws.” Privacy is undoubtedly becoming a more important issue to tackle with the rise of the Internet.

The influence of the Internet is expanding so quickly that our government’s laws and regulations barely have time to keep up. Facebook, in particular, is permeating our everyday lives at an exponential rate. There is rarely a moment that we are not updating our statuses with our thoughts, “checking in” at a location, or sending out mass online invitations to events. These acts alone are enough to let any of our “friends” know everything going on in our lives. However, to further this lack of privacy, the website also saves our information and sends it out to other websites. For example, an account on Pandora, the free music website, has a direct connection to a user’s Facebook account and information. This connection allows you to see what songs your “friends” like and if you have any in common.

If we stop to think about this, it’s a little creepy. Having all of your information sent out to the unbound Internet is intimidating; it’s an invasion in the simplest sense. Internet privacy advocate groups have been growing in numbers in recent years. Multiple sites dedicated to safe Internet use have been uploaded. Groups such as these are also marching to Washington, spreading their ideas and messages. The debate is a growing issue that will surely determine how we use the Internet in the future.

Executives at Facebook realize this Internet privacy revolution is brewing, of course. Hence their decision to hire so many Washington politicos. In the aforementioned New York Times article, Marne Levine, a former Obama administration official who joined Facebook as vice president of global public policy, said, “We are looking for people who are passionate about Facebook, who understand and can anticipate policy issues, and who are good at explaining those issues.” To me, this is concrete evidence of a defensive legal strategy.

Although I applaud Facebook executives for anticipating such issues and reacting so quickly, I can’t help but question whether this is a socially beneficial move. Obviously, Facebook benefits from gaining White House members. The company can build essential connections to other White House elites and thus gain serious political power and leverage. These are the connections Washington operates on; without them, no organization has a chance of advancing its political agenda. On the other hand, this does not really benefit those actually using Facebook. Without any separation of third-party corporations and government, there is no freedom from bias. There is no objectivity in deciding regulations and laws. How can a fair law that benefits the majority, rather than the company, come from this system? It does not seem safe to me that the company in question, Facebook, is essentially in charge of determining future privacy policies and regulations. It is a total conflict of interest.

In the New York Times article, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director of privacy programs at the Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, said that politically connected executives would not only be granted audiences with government officials to discuss substantive issues but, in the case of elected officials, would also have the chance to reinforce the idea that Facebook can be a powerful campaign tool. This will make it incredibly difficult for privacy advocate groups to have a chance of fighting Facebook’s political agenda. Consequently, not every opinion on the subject of privacy will be given a fair hearing, and the ensuing policies will be biased.

This is not democratic. This is not American. This is not just. It is a sad truth that our government operates this way, and, quite frankly, I think it’s the exact opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended for this nation’s future.