Facebook Hires Privacy Advocates Amidst Calls for Greater Regulation

The Associated Press
Andrew Harnik/AP

Facebook hired three privacy advocates in January amidst calls for greater scrutiny and regulation of the social media giant’s privacy practices.

Facebook hired three experts from Access Now, a digital consumers rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which focuses on free speech, and the Open Technology Institute (OTI), which a Facebook spokesman said reflects the company’s desire to help solve privacy-related problems.

The hires arise as the company faces increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public for its privacy-related scandals. Last December, the social media giant inflamed controversy when they gave Cambridge Analytica access to millions of Americans private data.

Further, Facebook’s recent decision to merge Facebook with Instagram and WhatsApp reportedly has “significant implications for privacy.”

Robyn Greene, formerly the senior policy counsel at OTI, specialized in surveillance and cybersecurity. Greene advocated for stronger privacy legislation after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Greene, however, has defended Facebook and other social media giants’ Communications Decency Act legal protections which some conservatives and tech experts have argued allows for the social media giants to unfairly censor content on their platforms. Greene said on Twitter that at Facebook she will manage privacy policy on law enforcement and data protection issues.

Nathan White, from Access Now, previously criticized a Senate Commerce Committee hearing which he said featured witnesses from big tech companies but no consumers groups.

Nate Cardazzo, from EFF, will work at Facebook as a privacy policy manager for its messaging app WhatsApp.

Tech industry observers and pundits said that Facebook’s hiring of privacy policy experts serves as a good sign, although, they will wait before the company makes any substantial moves first.

Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney at Georgetown’s communications and technology law clinic, said:

“I’m impressed that Facebook wants their expertise and isn’t just hiring yes-men. It’s encouraging that they’re hiring people with a great track record who will advocate for consumers.”
In regards to Facebook’s strategy, Barrett said, “I would hope that it means that they’re understanding that the tides have changed.”

Alex Howard, a former deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, said, “Whether the hires will have a positive impact “depends how much good faith you want to give Facebook.”

Howard said that he hopes the hires are not just “symbolic.”

“It is heartening if they’re bringing in tough critics who have specific expertise in understanding the issues,” Howard added. “The question is whether those people will have the opportunity to actually have impact on policy, and whether the very top of the company—Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg and the board—will take what they’re saying and actually implement.”

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