One possible approach could involve the President appointing the board of directors, similar to the existing corporate structure of PBS. The end result would make the board as accountable as any set of political appointees. Perhaps, as FCC history suggests, more so.This new public structure could also provide freedom to explore new data protection proof of concepts, argues author and TechDirt CEO Mike Masnick. Masnick has long argued for a shift from platforms to more open protocols, and thinks this may be an opportunity for whatever the managing body looks like to embrace data portability and control by end users.Imagine if “the Corporation for Public Facebook basically is charged with setting up a social media protocol for the public benefit, where the end users control their own data,” he says. If this is how the executive branch decides to proceed, “you get an alternative to the data silos, and you show how a protocol design where end users get to choose where the data lives and what permissions exist would work,” Masnick suggested.“Users would be able to store their data wherever they want, be that on their own local machines, or services set up to be data hosts,” theorizes Masnick. But that data could “be encrypted and under control of the end user,” who adds it should be capable of being moved elsewhere at any time.
Imagine if “the Corporation for Public Facebook basically is charged with setting up a social media protocol for the public benefit, where the end users control their own data?"
“Any time a government agency wants to collect data on the public that contains PII they have to file a Privacy Impact Assessment, as well as something called a Systems of Records Notice that spells out what data is being collected and why,” Jacob Harris, formerly an innovation specialist at 18F, the federal government’s digital services agency, told Motherboard.“Employees are required to take regular training on safeguarding PII, as well,” Harris added. “Not saying this is perfect, and government still relies too much on big databases with no inherent privacy protections (see the recent OPM hack), but it’s different from private industry and things like Uber’s ‘God mode’ where executives could spy on riders.”It’s extremely difficult to speculate how this might work at Facebook. The former company’s data policy says it does not “share information that personally identifies you…like name or email address…with advertising, measurement or analytics partners unless you give us permission.”And it’s easy to see how people could feel uncomfortable with Facebook acting as a national identity repository: “I don’t see how this doesn’t morph into a scary surveillance state, and/or people’s fears about the Mark of the Beast if Facebook was part of a broader identity management solution,” Harris added.A nationalized Facebook could also force the generally secretive company to become more transparent. Facebook.gov employees will now have whistleblower protections, for one, and many federal agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which gives people access to government records and information. FOIA exemptions would likely protect consumer data, but would give much better insight into how the organization itself actually works.
"I don’t see how this doesn’t morph into a scary surveillance state"
Experts say we will now see a mass exodus from Facebook.gov to other Silicon Valley tech companies.“You’d see all of them quit,” Thompson said. “‘I’m going to Google.’ And you’d get a bunch of people doing those jobs for government salaries, not market rate salaries.”No one who Motherboard spoke to could realistically imagine Facebook resembling a government agency, while remaining the company it is today, since there’s zero precedent for it.“It’s not a question about Facebook regulation, it’s a question about industry regulation,” Dipayan Ghosh, formerly a privacy and public policy advisor at Facebook, and currently a fellow at New America and the Harvard Kennedy School, told Motherboard.“In the longer term, the industry of internet companies is largely unregulated, and that’s the reason why we’re having this discussion right now,” Ghosh said. “Unlike the telecommunications sector, electric utility companies, or the airline industry, this is one that operates on self-regulation. That self-regulation has not been able to protect consumers from some of the harm we’ve seen.”
"The industry of internet companies is largely unregulated, and that’s the reason why we’re having this discussion right now"
To borrow a term adored by the technology industry, a nationalized Facebook would certainly be disruptive. In Silicon Valley, at least, “People would be really disturbed by it,” Thompson said. “If Facebook were nationalized, I think a lot of Silicon Valley would have serious problems with government, more for ideological reasons.”There will inevitably be Facebook.gov competitors—both for-profit and non-profit. For-profit Facebook clones would look a lot like the old Facebook, but non-profit, decentralized social media network—think something like Wikipedia, which relies on volunteers and donors rather than advertising—could avoid a lot of the pitfalls of Facebook without condemning us to state-run media.“Personally, I’d welcome a change like that where we move away from a model of selling our data to something that’s more of a public nonprofit,” said Robert Gehl, an associate professor at the University of Utah who researches alternative social media and is author for the book Reverse Engineering Social Media. “I’d like to see socialized media come up from below—a decentralized, open source, nonprofit system—and there are plenty of those out there already.”Gehl pointed to Diaspora and Mastodon as recent examples. Though these grassroots networks have yet to eclipse legacy sites like Facebook and Twitter, it may just be a matter of time. There was a day when Facebook was not the online behemoth is now, and a massive revelation about how our personal data may have been used to sway an election might just be the catalyst needed for a mass exodus. We just need to decide where we want to go.
"I’d welcome a change like that where we move away from a model of selling our data to something that’s more of a public nonprofit"