and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before my committee on Tuesday. It’s
garnering a lot of fanfare, but it’s important to stay focused on the reason
for the hearing: to gather information and begin an open dialogue about how we
address growing consumer privacy concerns.
The social media giant has more than 2 billion monthly
active users across the world. Each one of those users is a human being with a
unique profile and a personal cache of data. That cache is a treasure trove for
advertisers, political campaigns, and advocacy groups. In this day and age, I
don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that data can be the most valuable form
of currency. Data gives significant power and influence to the companies that
collect and control it.
has grown exponentially since it began 14 years ago, and so has its consumer
data collection operation. Where it once gathered information about the
schools, relationship statuses, and “likes” of users, now has access to dozens
of data points, ranging from advertisement click-throughs and draft posts to
events users attended and locations they’ve checked in to. Of course, this
significant data collection isn’t limited to Facebook—it’s the crux of a
business model for a growing and innovative industry. Google
Twitter, Apple, and Amazon have built an ever-expanding portfolio of
products and services that grant endless opportunities to collect increasing
amounts of information on their customers.
welcomed this incredible technology into their lives, amazed at its ability to
connect them with family, friends, and colleagues—whether right next-door or
across the world. As an early adopter of Twitter, I count myself among the
millions of people who are continually impressed with the instantaneous
connectivity of social media.
media further affixes to daily routine, the question becomes: Do users
understand how much of our lives is unknowingly converted to profitable data
points? The potential for growth and innovation based on the collection of data
is limitless, but so is the potential for abuse. Companies like Facebook must
step up to the plate and have an honest conversation about what they are doing
to ensure users know what to expect when it comes to privacy.
Over the last several weeks, the case of data misuse
involving Cambridge Analytica has clearly broken consumer trust. It has been a
catalyst for a conversation that, frankly, is long overdue. Many may not fully
understand or appreciate the extent to which personal data is collected,
protected, transferred, used, or misused. Ensuring that policies regarding data
privacy and security sync with the rapid advance of technology is paramount.
privacy should be tethered to consumer expectations. At the very least, that
should mean increased transparency for consumers.
transparency doesn’t mean pages of fine print in esoteric terms and conditions
agreements. I have a feeling I’m not alone. Those agreements are hard to read
and even harder to understand. And although technology will continue to become
more sophisticated, it doesn’t give companies a pass to veil their activities
in secrecy or bury them under unreasonably dense service agreements. If these
companies can find a way to notify a distant relative about what I’m eating for
dinner, they can certainly find a way to notify users about how our data is
must have the transparency necessary to make informed decisions about whether
to share their data and how that data can be used—be it in political campaigns
or in tailored ads. That kind of transparency has been woefully absent, which
is why it’s necessary to hear directly from Zuckerberg on what he sees as
Facebook’s most pressing problems and what his company is doing to fix them.
The way I
see it, the tech industry has a duty to respond to widespread and growing
privacy concerns and restore the public trust. The status quo no longer works.
As innovation continues, the industry needs to work with Congress to determine
if and how we need to strengthen privacy standards to ensure transparency for
billions of consumers. We can’t undo the damage that’s been done, but we can
work together in setting new rules of the road for our data.