Today, Public Knowledge and the Roosevelt Institute launched “The Case for the Digital Platform Act,” a new e-book by Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld with a foreword by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. The e-book operates as a guide for addressing the challenges posed by the power of digital platforms.
As Congress and other relevant stakeholders debate how to protect Americans’ privacy, a key concern is making sure that new legislation doesn’t entrench the power of big tech incumbents. In this post, we argue that incorporating data interoperability into privacy legislation is essential to empowering consumers’ data rights and fostering a competitive marketplace.
Facebook announced yesterday that it expects to pay a fine up to $5 billion dollars over accusations that the company violated its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission over consumer privacy on the social media platform. The company also said there can be no assurances as to the terms of resolution of the investigation.
Last week, thanks to investigative reporting, we learned that Facebook discovered in January that it was storing millions of users’ passwords in plain text format, making them fully readable for thousands of its employees. Facebook has acknowledged that this was a serious security error and privacy breach on its side, as its systems, ideally, “are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable”, and promised that it “will be notifying everyone whose passwords we have found were stored in this way.” There is no evidence that any of the thousand employees with access to these unencrypted passwords actually accessed them, but Facebook’s decision to remain mum reveals an important lesson for the overarching privacy and security policy debate. Importantly, data security incidents are a widespread problem that goes well beyond Facebook.
App stores, such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store, have been good for consumers and independent developers in a number of ways. When they work well, they provide consumers with a convenient way to find and buy software that is safe and functional. I remember when my non-technical friends would never install software on their PCs, assuming that it was all a scam or malware of some kind. Now these same people can confidently install, use, and uninstall apps without fearing that it will ruin their devices or steal their personal information. Again, this is when things are working right. There are always bad actors to be vigilant against, and different app store curators do their jobs more and less well.