Facebook’s problems in Europe are getting bigger

Technology

Věra Jourová the European Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality. Once upon a time, she had a Facebook account. It did not go well. “For a short time, I had a Facebook account,“ Jourová said at a news conference Thursday. “It was a channel of dirt. I didn’t expect such an influx of hatred. I decided to cancel the account because I realised there will be less hatred in Europe after I do this.”

Of course, quitting social media in flamboyant fashion has long been a popular activity for government and non-government users alike. The “Why I’m Leaving Twitter” Medium post is our generation’s “Why I’m Leaving New York” Movable Type entry.

But Jourová’s words carry more weight than most. She has a policy beef with Facebook, and also the means to enforce it. Jourová says Facebook’s terms of service are misleading, and has called upon the company to clarify them. In a post Thursday on that other channel of dirt, Twitter.com, she said-

“I want #Facebook to be extremely clear to its users about how their service operates and makes money. Not many people know that #Facebook has made available their data to third parties or that for instance it holds full copyright about any picture or content you put on it.”

Obviously you, as a devoted reader of The Interface, already knew both these things. But our penetration in the European market is still low.

Jourová says European authorities could sanction Facebook next year if it doesn’t like what it hears from the company soon. “I was quite clear that we cannot negotiate forever,” she said at the news conference. “We need to see the result.”

In the meantime, it’s clear that Facebook has a Europe problem. In the Wall Street Journal, Valentina Pop and Sam Schechner remind us about all the other recent regulatory actionsagainst the company:

The sharply worded salvo comes on top of a series of legislative proposals and regulatory actions from Europe aimed at reining in the power and perceived excesses of a cadre of big tech companies. The EU in May implemented a sweeping new privacy law, GDPR, and its parliament recently approved a draft copyright bill aimed at making Silicon Valley companies pay more money to support music firms and news publishers.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham reports that the United Kingdom’s Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is drafting new regulations of its own.

BuzzFeed News has obtained details of the proposals, which would see the establishment of an internet regulator similar to Ofcom, which regulates broadcasters, telecoms, and postal communications.

Home secretary Sajid Javid and culture secretary Jeremy Wright are considering the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for social media platforms and strict new rules such as “takedown times” forcing websites to remove illegal hate speech within a set timeframe or face penalties. Ministers are also looking at implementing age verification for users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

These are problems, though not insurmountable ones. Facebook can modify its terms of service easily enough. It could probably live with faster takedown time requirements, as it’s already doing in Germany, and with age verification requirements.

A point often made by Ben Thompson is that requirements like these often serve only to entrench incumbents. If a UK startup wanted to build a social network, how soon would it be expected to have a global moderation team that could take down posts within a few hours? How much capital would it need to build age verification?

European regulations, in other words, may come at the expense of European industry. And they may reinforce the dominance of tech giants here in the United States as well.

Still, that doesn’t mean Facebook, Google, and friends have nothing to worry about here.

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