More detail on that FTC decision on Facebook

When the UK Government published its White Paper on Online Harms one of the provisions which caused hearts to start beating faster, either from anxiety or joy depending on where you stood, was the possibility of Directors of internet companies being made criminally or otherwise liable for the actions of their companies.

I guess this is only an extension of the legal maxim “ignorantia juris non excusat”. It is not hard to guess what those Latin words mean: “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Here Her Majesty’s Government was simply updating the concept:  “ignorance of what is  being done online in your name is no excuse”.  

Is there a Bolshevik cell buried inside DCMS (the lead Ministry for the White Paper within HMG)? Did they somewhow manage to worm their way into the team responsible for writing the White Paper with the express intention of underming one of the capitalist world’s greatest success stories in recent times? If there is then the cell also has a counterpart in the FTC. Just look at some of the words they used in their now confirmed US$5 billion fine of Facebook:

“To prevent Facebook from deceiving (emphasis added)  its users about privacy in the future, the FTC’s new 20-year settlement order overhauls the way the company makes privacy decisions by boosting the transparency of decision making (ditto) and holding Facebook accountable via overlapping channels of compliance.

The order creates greater accountability at the board of directors level.  (ditto). It establishes an independent privacy committee of Facebook’s board of directors, removing unfettered control by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg (ditto) over decisions affecting user privacy. Members of the privacy committee must be independent and will be appointed by an independent nominating committee. Members can only be fired by a supermajority of the Facebook board of directors.

….. Facebook will be required to designate compliance officers who will be responsible for Facebook’s privacy program. These compliance officers will be subject to the approval of the new board privacy committee and can be removed only by that committee—not by Facebook’s CEO or Facebook employees. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg  (ditto) and designated compliance officers must independently submit to the FTC quarterly certifications that the company is in compliance with the privacy program mandated by the order, as well as an annual certification that the company is in overall compliance with the order. Any false certification will subject them to individual civil and criminal penalties (ditto)”.

Wow.  I guess that’s pretty clear. Mr Zuckerberg and pals have had their  knuckles rapped and their wings clipped, big time. They are also on notice that they could face prison or at any rate a criminal record if they do not up their game in the truth department.

I’d say whoever wrote and approved those words has a pretty low opinion of the company’s relationship with  veracity or the care it takes with it.

Yet there will still be people in the global, jet-setting fantasy world of internet governance and the institutions it has spawned who say  self-regulation wrapped around multistakeholderism is the best possible way to proceed.

There are none so blind as those whose wages depend on not seeing.

 

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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