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Facebook's privacy breach: is the pendulum swinging?

 

Days after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to the US presidential elections campaign, accessed information from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed by the CNN. Among other things, he stated that Facebook should be regulated. “I actually am not sure we shouldn't be regulated. I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world and I actually think the question is more, what is the right regulation rather than "Yes or no, should it be regulated?".

He also said: “If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV and print, it's just not clear why there should be less on the internet. We should have the same level of transparency required.


 

 

For us, this is an astonishing statement. We’ve been long demanding a level-playing field to enable fair competition and equal opportunity across the Internet value chain and to ensure the same level of security and protection for all users. This means not just in the advertising sector, on which Facebook’s economic model is based, but across all the digital economy.

It is not just making digital advertising being subject to same rules as traditional advertising, it is about digital services providing citizens, consumers and the society the same level of protection as traditional services. It is about implementing a level playing field in the whole digital value chain.

Digital taxation is another relevant issue to achieve a level playing field. Tax erosion through digitalization is a great concern for Governments, who need to secure and make sure public education, social policies and welfare are adequately funded. It also key for many businesses, who see that current fiscal framework provides an advantage to global service providers over local rivals.

OECD has been addressing this concern at the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) work stream for over five years now, having recently released a report pointing to 110 countries implementing a consensus based solution by 2020.  Telefónica applauds a more determined approach to the issue, such as the initiative launched days ago by the European Commission. A proposal on new rules aiming a balanced taxation of digital activities in the European Union, including an interim solution which could be effective in  short term. Besides, Facebook has taken the lead among digital companies, and announced recently that will start paying taxes locally, instead of tunnelling all profits to a quasi-tax haven hub.

Last but clearly not least, we want to mention the idea of how Level playing field applies to consumer protection. Consumers deserve the same level of protection no matter if using a digital service or an equivalent offline service. The European Commission seems to embrace such thought with a major overhaul of EU consumer rules. They aim to extend the bloc’s existing laws to services that collect users’ data as payment instead of money. When getting a service in exchange for a payment, why would consumers not deserve the same protection regardless of the payment means, currency or data?

Everyone should expect a safer Internet experience. Users would love to enjoy the same rights when accessing similar services based on different technologies, provided by different providers, even from different geographies. It is often difficult to understand that their privacy, security, and protection of their information are dependent on these factors.

A “same service, same rules, same rights, same protection” approach would benefit citizens and consumers as well as the digital economy. It would increase trust in digital environments, which translates into greater adoption and more intensive use of digital services.

 

 

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Enrique Medina
Chief Policy Officer