San Francisco: Faced with new questions about whether it’s a monopoly, Facebook Inc. is making a bold argument: owning so many communications platforms helps keep users safe.
On Tuesday, the European Parliament asked chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg whether he should be allowed to own two of the world’s largest chat applications, Messenger and WhatsApp, in addition to the biggest social network and the photo app Instagram. The company answered Wednesday in an online post, saying there are “many consumer benefits" to having Facebook control so much of the world’s communication. “By working together we have been able to improve safety across all these services," the company wrote. When Facebook sees spam, exploitative images or illegal content, for example, it can obliterate it on all platforms at once.
European regulators may not buy the argument, especially since they spent some of Tuesday’s hearing critiquing Facebook for not being effective enough in its treatment of harmful content. Though Facebook is investing in computer-based solutions, the company still relies heavily on users to flag the worst offenders on its apps. Also, Facebook has shown it doesn’t necessarily have to own something to help keep it safe. The social network shares its tips on terrorist content with other companies, including Twitter Inc. and Google, through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, for example.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook has also touted safety as a reason for data collection in at least two other cases with lawmakers: sharing data between WhatsApp and Facebook, and tracking people who don’t use Facebook on sites around the web. Zuckerberg during this week’s EU hearing reiterated that the tracking of non-users was needed for security purposes. On Wednesday, Facebook clarified that it also keeps tabs on people who don’t have accounts on sites it doesn’t own to serve them ads suggesting they sign up for Facebook.
Zuckerberg, in responding to European and US lawmakers’ questions, has generally avoided talking about the business reasons behind Facebook’s strategies. Instead, he has sought to portray Facebook as a benevolent business with more interest in user well-being than profits. That rhetoric has been well-received by some lawmakers, who see it as Facebook’s recognition of its growing responsibility in society. It’s been panned by others as disingenuous.
Facebook said it would cooperate with European authorities on any of their antitrust questions. But the company also pointed out that users have other options. If someone wants to post a video, for example, that person can post it on Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Snapchat and DailyMotion. If a business wants to advertise, it can choose to do so on Spotify Ltd., Amazon.com Inc., Snap Inc.’s Snapchat, Google or Twitter.
Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google dominate in digital advertising and are capturing most of the market’s growth. But Facebook said when it comes to the entire $650 billion global advertising market, its share makes up just 6%.