Top Communications Union Joins Group Pushing for Facebook’s Breakup

(Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. communications union is joining a coalition calling for the Federal Trade Commission to break up Facebook Inc., as the social media company faces growing government scrutiny and public pressure.

“We should all be deeply concerned by Facebook’s power over our lives and democracy,” said Brian Thorn, a researcher for the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America, the newest member of the Freedom From Facebook coalition. For the FTC not to end Facebook’s monopoly and impose stronger rules on privacy “would be unfair to the American people, our privacy, and our democracy,” Thorn said in an email.

Facebook disclosed July 2 that it’s cooperating with probes by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on how political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information from as many as 87 million of the site’s users without their consent. The FTC, the Department of Justice and some state regulators were already probing the matter, which prompted Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress in April. Facebook also faces calls for regulation from many lawmakers and the public over the privacy issue, Russian efforts to manipulate the 2016 presidential election and the spread of false information on the platform.

Facebook declined to comment on the union’s move. The CWA doesn’t represent Facebook employees, but it does represent more than 100,000 workers at AT&T Inc., which has clashed with Facebook on public policy before. And although Facebook’s workers don’t belong to unions, the contracted shuttle drivers and cafeteria workers are unionized.

CWA’s members believe the union should be a powerful voice in the debate over privacy and monopoly at Facebook, given its expertise in telecommunications and knowledge of how to influence the regulatory process, Beth Allen, the union’s communications director, said in an interview.

“There’s a lot of public pressure around this issue,” Allen said. “We hope to increase that public pressure around it, and I’m fairly optimistic that there is an appetite for making some progress there.”

Facebook is “a whole new kind of entity that I think regulators are struggling to keep up with,” Allen said, citing its wide-ranging businesses, including its separate messaging app, Instagram photo-sharing service and internet service abroad.

The company has said it faces stiff competition, particularly from other communication apps, and points out that its main social network, with more than 2 billion users worldwide, is free and popular.

Sarah Miller, Freedom From Facebook’s director, said the addition of the union showed the group of privacy and anti-monopoly activists is gaining momentum.

“It’s a really important signal that we’re having more and more groups become interested in this set of solutions,” she said.

CWA will help develop the coalition’s evolving strategy, Miller added. The union joins groups including MoveOn and the Open Markets Institute in Freedom From Facebook. The anti-Facebook coalition plans to urge members to participate in upcoming public hearings of the FTC, Miller said. The agency’s chairman, Joe Simons, has said the question of whether tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are undermining competition will be a priority of the hearings.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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