How would Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) know that Facebook’s user agreement sucks? Has he read it? For that matter, has anyone read it? That was the thrust of Kennedy’s scolding of Mark Zuckerberg yesterday during the Facebook CEO’s public testimony on Capitol Hill, which CNN’s Erin Burnett recaps in an interview with Kennedy earlier this morning. It’s an unreadable deluge of legal gobbledygook, Kennedy told Zuckerberg, with the purpose of “covering Facebook’s rear end” and not to inform users of the manipulation of their data:
— CNN (@CNN) April 11, 2018
“Here’s what everyone’s been trying to tell you today — and I say it gently — your user agreement sucks,” Kennedy said. “The purpose of a user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, not inform users of their rights.” …
And just in case Zuckerberg wasn’t entirely clear on Kennedy’s point, the Senator left him with some colorful advice.
“I’m going to suggest you go home and rewrite it, and tell your $1,200 dollar and hour lawyer…you want it written in English not Swahili, so the average American user can understand,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy emphasized the alternative in the exchange with Zuckerberg as well as repeating it with Burnett. “I don’t want to have to vote to regulate Facebook,” Kennedy declared, “but by God, I will.”
Would that be an improvement, though? If anything was made clear during the hearings yesterday, it’s that the assembled lawmakers don’t really have a firm grasp on Facebook or social media platforms and business models at large either. The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan asks the obvious question — how can Congress regulate something it doesn’t understand?
The hearing should give everyone serious pause if they think that federal legislation is going to solve the serious and growing issues of technology run amok.
For one simple reason: Legislators don’t seem to understand it well enough to even ask the right questions, much less fix the problem. …
Something needs to be done about that. Meaningful self-regulation is laughable.
But unfortunately, so is the idea that Congress can manage the job.
The last time people insisted that “something needs to be done” about regulating an industry Congress didn’t understand, we got ObamaCare, soaring premiums and deductibles, and the near-destruction of the individual health-insurance market. At least in this case the damage won’t be life- and health-threatening.
However, it still raises questions about how far Congress intrudes on a speech platform for which users pay no fees and voluntarily share their information. The issue here isn’t so much that the “user agreement sucks” — it does, as does Apple’s, Google’s, Yahoo’s, Microsoft’s, and every other user agreement in existence. It’s the question of just what hook exists for government to intrude on a non-commercial relationship related to free speech. Maybe we should answer that question before setting our collective hair on fire and demanding that “something needs to be done.”