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Zuckerberg calls for new internet regulation

Facebook chief calls for new internet regulation in four key areas to define clear responsibilities for people, companies and governments, including more GDPR-aligned data protection rules

Harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability all require new internet regulations, according to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and co-founder of Facebook.

“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it – the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things – while also protecting society from broader harms,” he wrote in a blog post.

The call comes within weeks of committing to transform Facebook into a privacy-focused communications platform, and is one of the latest moves by the social networking firm to counter controversy and criticism over the way it fails to protect users’ privacy.

Zuckerberg’s blog post coincided with the publication in the New Zealand Herald newspaper of a letter by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in the face of criticism of Facebook executives for failing to respond in the past two weeks to questions about the use of Facebook to live stream the attack on a Christchurch mosque in which 50 people were killed.

“We have heard feedback that we must do more – and we agree. In the wake of the terror attack, we are taking three steps: strengthening the rules for using Facebook Live, taking further steps to address hate on our platforms, and supporting the New Zealand community,” wrote Sandberg.

She said Facebook was exploring restrictions on who could use live streaming, researching technology to prevent people from re-sharing new versions of violent content and taking stronger steps to remove hate speech on its platforms. 

“Finally, we are standing by the people of New Zealand and providing support to four local well-being and mental health organisations to raise awareness around their services within the country,” wrote Sandberg.

Addressing harmful content in his blog post, Zuckerberg said Facebook continually reviewed its policies, but because people use dozens of different sharing services, a more standardised approach was needed. “Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum,” he said.

Second, Zuckerberg said legislation was important for protecting elections, and although Facebook has already made “significant changes” around political ads such as requiring advertisers to verify their identities before purchasing political adverts, he said deciding whether an advert is political was not always straightforward. “Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors,” he wrote.

Third, Zuckerberg said effective privacy and data protection required a globally harmonised framework. “People around the world have called for comprehensive privacy regulation in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and I agree. I believe it would be good for the internet if more countries adopted regulation such as GDPR as a common framework.”

New privacy regulation around the world, he said, should build on the protections GDPR provides, it should protect individuals’ rights to choose how their information is used – while enabling companies to use information for safety purposes and to provide services – it should not require data to be stored locally, and it should establish a way to hold companies such as Facebook accountable by imposing sanctions when they make mistakes.

“I also believe a common global framework – rather than regulation that varies significantly by country and state – will ensure that the internet does not get fractured, entrepreneurs can build products that serve everyone, and everyone gets the same protections,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He said he hoped new privacy regulations could help answer some of the questions GDPR leaves open and provide clear rules on when information could be used to serve the public interest and how it should apply to new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Fourth, Zuckerberg said regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability. “If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate and compete.”

But, he said this also required common standards and clear rules about who is responsible for protecting information when it moves between services.

“The rules governing the internet allowed a generation of entrepreneurs to build services that changed the world and created a lot of value in people’s lives. It’s time to update these rules to define clear responsibilities for people, companies and governments going forward,” Zuckerberg concluded.

Although Facebook’s financial and user numbers published in January appear to indicate that the Cambridge Analytic data sharing scandal and a growing catalogue of privacy failings are not affecting the business, the company chief finally appears to be taking seriously criticism from regulators and rights groups.

There is also evidence that public views on Facebook are changing, with a recently published survey of 2,000 UK consumers showing that 83% believe Facebook should be regulated, supporting the view of MPs who think action is needed to curb the power of the social media firm.

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