Zuckerberg testimony day 2: U-M experts available

April 11, 2018
Nicole Casal Moore, 734-647-7087, ncmoore@umich.edu or Laurel Thomas, 734-647-1841, ltgnagey@umich.edu

EXPERTS ADVISORY

In the wake of Mark Zuckerberg’s April 11 testimony before Congress, University of Michigan experts are available to comment on its implications for policy, data science, privacy, social media responsibility, Facebook’s need for a new funding model, and more.

Florian Schaub is assistant professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science. He studies privacy, human-computer interaction, mobile and ubiquitous computing, and the Internet of Things. He and colleagues have developed tools to help consumers analyze and understand privacy policies.

On national privacy policy: “It is encouraging to see that Congress is talking about possible regulation for tech companies to better protect consumer privacy. Rather than creating privacy regulation for online companies, the U.S. should follow Europe’s example of a comprehensive privacy law that applies to all personal data collection and processing regardless of a specific sector. Otherwise, we will be in a similar situation in a few years, playing catch-up to establish consumer privacy protections in new sectors, such as autonomous vehicles, smart homes, virtual reality, synthetic audio and video creation, or some other future technology.”

On helping consumers understand companies’ privacy policies: “In our research, we have demonstrated ways that privacy notices can be designed so that consumers pay attention to them. The information needs to be relevant to what they are doing at the particular moment when they are seeing it. It must be understandable to consumers and not written in legalese. And, most importantly, the information must be actionable: unless people can say “no” to specific practices, why should they read it? Privacy notices can also be made shorter by considering when what information and privacy controls are relevant and by integrating them into people’s interaction with the service.

“Our research on automatically analyzing privacy policies in the Usable Privacy Policy Project can help create analysis tools like Polisis and the Policy Exploration Website, as well as even privacy chatbots like PriBot that enable consumers to ask questions about a company’s data practices and get relevant snippets from the privacy policy.”

Read Schaub’s Conversation articles:

Contact: 734-764-5607‬, fschaub@umich.edu, @floschaub


Garlin Gilchrist is the executive director of the new School of Information Center for Social Media Responsibility. The center will make U-M research usable to media makers, media consumers and platform companies, and will produce designs, systems and metrics that aim to steer social media use toward more civil and beneficial discourse.

“We created the Center for Social Media Responsibility because of the unavoidable fact that the social media platform companies like Facebook have an increasingly important role to play in protecting and encouraging healthy, productive connections between people. It was good to hear CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledge this greater responsibility on Capitol Hill.

“Going forward, those words and commitments must evolve into action and accountability. To rebuild trust, Facebook must build upon the steps the company has taken to show their willingness to not just cooperate with concerned consumers and interested policymakers, but their ability to proactively collaborate and contribute to solutions.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Now that Washington lawmakers are eager to act, they too have a responsibility to represent their constituents by proposing thoughtful, flexible regulatory frameworks that ask and answer the right questions.”

Contact: 734-763-2285, garlin@umich.edu, @garlin


Christian Sandvig, professor of information and communication studies, specializes in the design of internet infrastructure and social computing. His current research focuses on human and machine co-curation and filtering of information and culture. Recently his research group developed “algorithm audit” strategies that aim to improve transparency, fairness and accountability for online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“Zuckerberg’s claim that the Kogan/Cambridge Analytica app took information from people ‘whose privacy settings allowed it’ seems a bridge too far,” he said.

See more comments on the Social Media Collective.

Contact: 734-763-0861, csandvig@umich.edu, @niftyc


H V Jagadish is a professor of computer science and engineering and expert on ethics in computer science. He has developed a MOOC on Ethics in Data Science that is available through multiple platforms.

“One thing we learned from the hearings is that Facebook intends to continue its advertising-supported business model, in which information about its users is used to target messages to them, whether that be advertising for products or political messages,” he said. “The rest of the discussion is about setting rules of the road for such messaging.

“In round numbers, Facebook has a little over $40 billion in annual revenue and slightly more than 2 billion users. Not all of this revenue is from advertising, but in round numbers, Facebook is being paid about $20 per user per year for all the advertising they see. Turning off advertising in return for a subscription fee is a possibility, and it may appear that a $20 per year subscription fee ought to do it. However, not all current users would be willing to pay even such a modest fee. Perhaps most would not.

“Furthermore, the users most willing to pay the fee are likely to be the ones with the most money to spend, and hence the most valuable to advertise to. What will the numbers look like? We do not know, and I expect even Facebook only has a guess. Perhaps there just isn’t a viable economic model for a subscription-fee based social network.”

Contact: 734-763-4079, jag@umich.edu


Paul Resnick, the Michael D. Cohen Collegiate Professor of Information, chairs the Center for Social Media Responsibility and is associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the School of Information. Among his research interests, Resnick has studied how people determine if the information they are reading through emails, blogs and social media is credible. He co-authored the book “Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design.”

“From the first hour, the thing that struck me is that Zuckerberg says they are changing their sense of what they are responsible for. Whereas they used to think they were responsible only for providing tools, they now think they have responsibility for making sure that the tools are used for good,” he said.

“From the perspective of our Center for Social Media Responsibility, this is a welcome change. However, society won’t want Facebook employees to be the decider of what is good and bad. So, the challenge will be for Facebook to organize partnerships where the public at large gets a say in what counts as good or bad. Facebook would then take some responsibility for amplifying the things that the public deems good and dampening the things that the public deems bad.”

Contact: 734-647-9458, presnick@umich.edu, @presnick


Erik Gordon, clinical assistant professor at the Ross School of Business, has expertise in entrepreneurship, technology commercialization, biomedical industry, venture capital and private equity.

“The big challenge for Zuckerberg was not whether he performed well at the hearings. The bet-the-company challenge is whether he can preserve enough revenue growth under the constraints of new regulations that reduce the quantity and quality of the user data Facebook sells to third parties,” he said.

“The company faces not just new regulations. It also faces new awareness by users of how much information about them is being sold. Users who are more aware of how much is being sold might abandon Facebook or switch to new options that block some of that data.”

Contact: 734-764-5274, rmegordo@umich.edu