Complex Made Simple

Who’s trying to break Facebook’s dominant market share?

When Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the Congress of Senates, on April 10, he was asked a simple question: “Is Facebook a monopoly?”

To that, he answered that the average person uses eight different social media apps (I use 15).

Let us list some of the most popular apps:

We have Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., but we couldn’t find out what the other three were. Now if you look closely, Facebook already owns 60% of social media app usage.

Read: Weekly Tech-Talk: Which mobile giant has got the winning strategy?

A true monopoly?

“Social media has a competition problem, and its name is Facebook. Today, Facebook and its subsidiaries are over ten times more valuable than the next two largest social media companies outside China—Twitter and Snapchat—combined,” Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

“It has cemented its dominance by buying out potential competitors before they’ve had a chance to grow (like Instagram) and waging wars of attrition against others (like Snapchat) when it can’t. Because of its massive reach across much of the world, the platform can effectively censor public speech, perform psychological experiments, and potentially sway elections on the scale of a nation-state. And if users don’t like the way Facebook wields this power, there is nowhere else as ubiquitous or as well-populated for them to go.” It ended.

Read: Weekly Tech-Talk: EU hits Google with $5bn, but it is not the end

DTP is a great project to fix the issues

Last week, Facebook announced that, along with Twitter, it was joining Microsoft’s and Google’s data portability initiative, the Data Transfer Project (DTP).

“DTP was formed in 2017 to create an open-source, service-to-service data portability platform so that all individuals across the web could easily move their data between online service providers whenever they want,” DTP said.

“The contributors to the DTP believe portability and interoperability are central to innovation. Making it easier for individuals to choose among services facilitates competition, empowers individuals to try new services and enables them to choose the offering that best suits their needs,” DTP concluded.

However, without substantive changes to the Facebook’s policies and processes, this project alone won’t give us meaningful portability away from the tech giants or tools that empower end-users themselves.

Facebook’s chest of user data is its most valuable asset, which presents a dilemma.

Thanks to the “network effects,” every user who joins a social network makes it more valuable for advertisers and more useful to everyone else. Without some access to the data that Facebook has, it’s virtually impossible for upstart platforms to compete with the giant.

This leads to appointing Facebook as a keeper and “protector” of the world’s data, and we all know how bad that went.

Facebook should let its users take control of their own data (is it not ours anyway?).

If done carefully, it can be accomplished without opening the door to shady actors. Ultimately, Facebook does not have to be any less diligent about protecting users from malicious actors. It just has to stop “protecting” them from legitimate competitors.

It already recognizes that it is under pressure to improve its data portability, which might be the reason why the company opted to support DTP.

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Here is what EFF thinks Facebook should do:

1-      Give users a tool for real data portability. That includes a way to export the rich contact list that Facebook hosts and the tracking data Facebook collects without meaningful consent.

2-      Open up its platform policy to enable competitors, cooperators and follow-on innovators. Allow developers to use Facebook’s APIs for software that modifies or competes with the core Facebook experience.

3-      Interoperate with the next generation of social networks via open standards. Adapt Facebook’s APIs to use the W3C’s social web protocols where appropriate, and allow access to federated services like Mastodon to work with Facebook as partners.

Overall whether this project will be boycotted or endorsed by Facebook, to keep its dominance over the bank of data it has on its users, is a sight that we will be carefully monitoring.