US Senator on Facebook, Google: Privacy is a casualty

U.S. Senator Al Franken gave a speech recently in which he attacked both Facebook and Google. Franken explained how both companies are in the business of disregarding your privacy.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

U.S. Senator Al Franken, who also is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, gave an intense speech to the American Bar Association's Section of Antitrust Law on Thursday. At one point he said Americans' "privacy can be a casualty of anti-competitive practices" especially when it comes to discussing large media and technology companies. In particular, Franken singled out Facebook and Google. He pointed out Facebook isn't getting enough competition and may soon sell your private data directly as opposed to via advertising. He also blasted Google for its controversial new privacy policy.

Here's what Franken said about Facebook:

If you use Facebook – as I do – Facebook in all likelihood has a unique digital file of your face, one that can be as accurate as a fingerprint and that can be used to identify you in a photo of a large crowd. … When a company is able to establish a dominant market position, consumers lose meaningful choices. You might not like that Facebook shares your political opinions with Politico, but are you really going to delete all the photos, all the posts, all the connections – the presence you've spent years establishing on the world's dominant social network?

Here's what Franken said about Google:

If you don't want your search results shared with other Google sites – if you don't want some kind of super-profile being created for you based on everything you search, every site you surf, and every video you watch on YouTube – you will have to find a search engine that's comparable to Google. Not easy.

If you want a free email service that doesn't use your words to target ads to you, you'll have to figure out how to port years and years of Gmail messages somewhere else, which is about as easy as developing your own free email service.

Here's the money quote:

Google and Facebook are, essentially, tremendously innovative and profitable advertising companies. Google, for instance, took in $37.9 billion in revenue last year – $36.5 billion of which was in advertising. These companies' profitability depends in large part on their ability to target ads to you, which in turn depends in large part on what they know about you.

He then went on to say how it can get even worse:

It isn't time for alarm bells just yet. There are still some lines Google and Facebook aren't planning to cross. Yet. Facebook isn't about to sell lists of your friends to the highest bidder. And I'm pretty sure Google knows that, if it published everyone's search history online, there would be some meaningful blowback.

Franken explains how Facebook and Google are both antitrust targets. This is interesting because the two are increasingly targeting each other's revenue sources and so they're constantly worrying about what the other is doing. If I may be so blunt, Facebook and Google are racing to own the most information about every Internet user.

You can read a 31-page transcription of Franken's entire speech here: PDF.

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