Canadian official suggests breaking up Facebook to company’s vice president
Facebook refused to entertain the idea of antitrust regulation of during a hearing in the U.K. on Tuesday with representatives from nine governments.
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Canadian representative Charlie Angus concluded the hearing with a fiery exchange with a Facebook vice president, and suggested the company get to what he saw as the heart of the issue — Facebook’s dominance in social media.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg declined to attend the hearing, despite the representatives’ repeated insistence. Instead, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions, Richard Allan, showed up to answer questions next to an empty chair with Zuckerberg’s name on a placard.
“What we’re regulating … are the symptoms,” said Angus, vice chairman of the House of Commons’ standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics. “Perhaps the best regulation would be antitrust.”
Angus said the problem lies in the fact that people who want to use a social media platform other than Facebook often only have the option of another Facebook-owned service like WhatsApp or Instagram. He said the lack of competition allows Facebook to shy away from accountability for its platforms. Angus suggested breaking up the company or even making it like a public utility.
In response to the question of whether Facebook would entertain discussion of antitrust regulation, Allan said, “It depends on the problem we’re trying to solve.”
“The problem is Facebook,” Angus replied.
Allan responded, “Unless you’re going to turn off the internet, I’m not confident that people, the people we serve, you serve, would be better off, in a world where Facebook is not able, however imperfectly, to offer services where we spend 15 years learning how to do it.”
Angus said he was not suggesting to turn off the internet, but that antitrust may be a way for governments to hold Facebook to corporate accountability standards.
The Canadian representative also brought up Facebook’s dominance over the news cycle and its failure to deliver accurate metrics in the earlier days of its video product.
“You are the arbiter right now of the news cycle around the world because of your video metrics,” Angus said. “And what we learned in 2014 you became aware they were highly inflated and did nothing. Now you can say you’re on a learning path and a journey and you might get back to us. I would consider that corporate fraud on a massive scale.”