Facebook's answers to Congress are here

The worst homework assignment in history is over, with Facebook delivering more than 400 pages of answers to Congress' questions in written form. The answers cover everything from whether or not Facebook creates a 'shadow' profile on you even if you don't have an account, to whether share buttons are tracking you.

Some of the answers are substantive, such as the answer to whether the 'like' button embedded on websites is used for tracking:

When people visit apps or websites that feature our technologies—like the Facebook Like or Comment button—our servers automatically log (i) standard browser or app records of the
fact that a particular device or user visited the website or app; and (ii) any additional information the publisher of the app or website chooses to share with Facebook about the person’s activities on that site (such as the fact that a purchase was made on the site)

I like this answer mostly because of the next part, which immediately throws the attention on Facebook's ad-based competitors: 

For example, the Senate Commerce Committee’s website shares information with Google and its affiliate DoubleClick and with the analytics company Webtrends. This means that, when a person visits the Committee’s website, it sends browser information about their visit to each one of those third parties.

Ah, the old "they do it so we can do it" answer! The company's answer to whether or not it feels it has a monopoly — which Zuckerberg scoffed at in Congress saying "it sure doesn't feel like it to me" — is perhaps worse in writing than in person:

In Silicon Valley and around the world, new social apps are emerging all the time. The average American uses eight different apps to communicate with their friends and stay in touch
with people. There is a lot of choice, innovation, and activity in this space, with new competitors arising all the time. 

Yeah, new apps all the time that Facebook continues to acquire, or compete with by cloning their features! The longer answer is worth a read, as with the remainder of the answers, if you found the round of questioning interesting. 

It seems by writing such a detailed document Facebook has quelled Congress for now, and it hopes that with this document all of this is behind it.


Net Neutrality dies with a whimper

Yesterday, the US' Net Neutrality laws quietly died, with the June 11th deadline coming and going without any plans to replace it. 

This was set in motion back in December 2017, when the FCC voted to repeal the Obama-era protections put into place, which the new chairman, Ajit Pai, repeatedly claimed were blocking innovation in the industry (despite a lack of evidence to prove as much).

What now? Well, we don't know yet, because the cable companies aren't rushing to be the first ones publically hamstrung for something that might look distasteful. Like The Verge points out, we'll see the effects over time, in subtle ways: perhaps AT&T giving DirectTV subscribers faster internet when streaming on their own service, vs Netflix.

Some of these types of deals were already in place within the boundaries of the law in the US. For example, making cable companies' own streaming services zero-rated data on mobile, or striking deals with Spotify to do the same.

Here in the Netherlands, neither of those would fly. We have strong net neutrality laws that sees real results; when the Dutch T-mobile network tried to zero-rate Spotify streaming in 2016, regulators jumped on it and began fining the company $52,000 per day for offering the product.

Eventually, T-mobile backed down and instead gave customers a lot more data to use in general as an alternative. Not only is that the result you'd hope for, in my opinion, it's the entire point of net neutrality: carriers are going to try and make data seem more expensive than it really is, which is why these deals exist in the first place.

US regulators are trying to get the FCC to restore the previous bill, but won't present it to Congress without support from both sides, so it's likely going to be a long, slow battle on that front.