Force Social Networks to have federated standards

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The last weeks have shown in which scale social media companies abuse user data for political influence, or just monetary gain. Data of million of Facebook users was sold to Cambridge Analytica. They in turn used this data to influence the US electoral campaigns. It is likely that this company also affected the Brexit vote. And it was revealed that Facebook approached parties of Australia and offered tools to target specificially undecided voters. It is even rumored that Mark Zuckerberg planned to become the next US President.

On Android phones, the Facebook app logs all messages and the call history and might listen to your private conversations to display you the right ads. Facebook has deep ties to Russia. Additionally, in 2015 Facebook forced users to perform a mandatory malware check before they could log in to their accounts. One of the programs used was the Kaspersky Malware Scan, which was later accused to be an instrument of espionage for Russia. Interestingly this happened in the same timeframe, in which classified material was stolen from NSA servers, allegedly with the help of Kaspersky.

Despite all these terrible and evil actions, abandoning social media platforms is difficult. The services they provide are convenient and often the only way to connect with old acquintances and friends. The more customers a social network has the more useful it becomes o its users. This is called the network effect. This created big monopolies. For smaller competitors it is impossible to become relevant due to the strength of this effect. Without political intervention, change seems unlikely. After every scandal people will once again return to the dominant service, since it would require a coordinated effort of many users to migrate to another platform. And even if this happened, the same market dominance will only lie at a different brand. The network effect is so strong that companies don't even need to employ other anti competitive practices to keep their monopolies. But since the network effect acts as a anti competitive practice by design, it is percived less threatening to the market than other practices of the same group. But the opposite is true.

There is, however, a solution to this problem. Should social media companies be required to open up their networks to be interoperable with competitiors, users could switch to a different service without losing the option to connect with friends, thus negating the impact of the network effect. Innovation and quality could finally win against established dominance. Such standards are possible and are already successfully implemented in networks like diaspora* or Mastodon. But no comapany would want sacrifice their monopoly on their own.

And that is why we have to demand lawmakers to take action to create and enforce interoperable standards for social networks!



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