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Facebook co-founder: ‘It is time to break up Facebook’

Co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, has published an op-ed in The New York Times calling for Facebook to be broken up, as it faces investigations from the US Federal Trade Commission

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is calling for the US government to take anti-trust action against Facebook, separating it into multiple companies.

Hughes joins a growing number of privacy activists, politicians and regulators calling for anti-trust action against Facebook, including senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has also pledged to break up Amazon and Google as well if elected in 2020.

“When it hasn’t acquired its way to dominance, Facebook has used its monopoly position to shut out competing companies or has copied their technology,” wrote Hughes in an op-ed published in The New York Times.

He said Facebook’s CEO “has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice”.

Hughes’s intervention comes as the US Federal Trade Commission conducts investigations into whether Facebook violated a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2011, which required the social media company to improve its privacy protections for consumers. Facebook is bracing itself for fines between $3bn and $5bn.

Hughes called for a new agency, empowered by US Congress, to regulate technology companies more widely. “Its first mandate should be to protect privacy,” he added.

Although Zuckerberg himself has told US Congress that Facebook has too much power, Hughes said that Zuckerberg “is pursuing a twofold strategy” to mitigate the risk of regulation.

Zuckerberg’s strategy includes pivoting towards more private, encrypted messaging and encouraging “friendly oversight from regulators and other industry executives”.

Hughes called for lawmakers to take action against Facebook’s dominance: “For too long, lawmakers have marveled at Facebook’s explosive growth and overlooked their responsibility to ensure that Americans are protected and markets are competitive.”

Facebook is facing increasing pressure from regulators in several countries  – most recently, Canada’s Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which unanimously voted to subpoena Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for appearances before the Canadian Parliament, if they step foot in Canada.

Zuckerberg would also be at risk if he travelled to the UK. Damian Collins, the chair of Parliaments’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee (DCMS), said that the committee would order him to appear to answer questions if he arrived in the UK.

“If Mark Zuckerberg came to the UK, we would serve a summons on him. If he refused to accept that summons, then we could start contempt proceedings against him,” Collins told CBS News.

Parliamentarians from nine countries are due to meet in Canada on 28 May to discuss the risk of disinformation on social media.

Confirmed witnesses include David Carroll, associate professor of media design; Jason Klint, CEO of Digital Content Next; Jim Balsillie, former CEO and founder of Blackberry; and Ellen Weintraub, chair of the US Federal Election Commission.

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