In the last 24 hours Mark Zuckerberg has bitten the bullet.
The notoriously media-shy mogul gave a slew of interviews this week as he attempted to control the fall-out from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and explain just how the data analytics firm which helped the Trump campaign managed to harvest the profile information from 50 million Facebook users without their permission.
Amid all the interviews, one interaction stood out. When asked by CNN’s Laurie Seagall why shouldn’t Facebook be regulated on Wednesday night, Zuckerberg said he was open to the idea. Or, at least, he didn’t immediately shut down the idea.
“I’m actually not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he said. “You know, I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world and I actually think the question is more what’s the right regulation rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should it be regulated.”
“If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV, in print, you know it’s just not clear why there should be less on the internet,” Zuckerberg continued. “You should have the same level of transparency required.”
As Facebook has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past year, tech regulation has become the elephant in the room. During Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s marathon testimony session in front of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees last November, regulation was mentioned by both Republicans and Democrats, pointing to at least some bipartisan consensus on Silicon Valley.
“Political ads are regulated but in social media it’s pretty much the Wild West,” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said at the time. “I’m convinced now that self-regulation is not going to work, we’re going to have to give these companies some structure.”
However, it’s important to take Zuckerberg’s sudden openness to that regulation with a grain of salt. Immediately after saying he was open to the idea of regulation, Zuckerberg proceed to dismiss most of Washington’s concerns, launching into an explanation of how Facebook “has already started rolling out ad transparency tools that accomplish most of the things that are in all the bills that people are talking about today,” and suggesting that there was no need for anyone else to get involved. Facebook, in other words, was perfectly capable of self-regulating.
Officials overseas aren’t waiting for that to happen. Last year, the European Union introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which restricts how companies collect and store personal data, forcing Facebook to change its tone: ahead of the launch, Facebook launched a new privacy center, which Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said gave the company “a very good foundation to meet all the requirements of the G.D.P.R. and spur us on to continue investing in products and in educational tools to protect privacy.”
It’s likely that Facebook will face some financial costs if it agrees to Washington’s requests for more stringent regulation. However, bearing in mind Facebook has lost approximately $60 billion in stock value since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, that may be a justifiable cost.