The social network says it will behave better from now on. Promise
The scene is becoming familiar: a Facebook executive is hauled before Congress in Washington, dc; a public grilling ensues. At least on July 16th and 17th American lawmakers looked better prepared than they were a year ago when they displayed little idea of Facebook’s business during hearings over its failure to stop a rogue consultancy from harvesting data on 50m users without permission. This time David Marcus fielded mostly sensible questions about the social network’s nascent cryptocurrency project, Libra, which he heads. Would transaction data be mined for valuable spending patterns? How will Facebook make money from Libra, which is to be governed by an independent body based in Switzerland?
Mr Marcus offered reasonable answers. User consent will be required to mine transaction data; money will come from advertisers, happy to pay to gain access to consumers more willing to part with their money thanks to easier online payments. The big question on everybody’s mind was different, however: why on Earth would scandal-plagued Facebook launch a global financial instrument at all?
The query is all the more relevant in light of a decision days earlier by the Federal Trade Commission to fine the company $5bn for its recent misuse of user data. If approved by the Department of Justice, as looks likely, the penalty will be the largest that the American government has ever meted out to a technology company (the EU has been harsher).
Facebook seems eager to convince governments that, despite piles of evidence to the contrary, it can be trusted. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s boss, has called for more regulation of Big Tech, including his firm. On Capitol Hill Mr Marcus promised that Libra, and the division of Facebook which is meant to monetise it, Calibra, would not launch until the concerns of American lawmakers have been allayed. It now asks for permission rather than forgiveness, Mr Marcus appeared to be saying, not the other way around as in its youth.