Mark Zuckerberg Is Just Doing What He'd Have Been Forced to Do

(Bloomberg Gadfly) -- Mark Zuckerberg is making it easier to tear digital pages out of your Facebook. But that doesn't mean he wants to.

At first glance, it's a sincere reaction to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Under the rubric "It's Time to Make Our Privacy Tools Easier to Find", Facebook Inc. outlined how it will show users what personal data the social network holds, who can see it, and -- crucially -- limit how it can be used to serve you ads. You'll also be able to delete any of it from its servers.

Mark Zuckerberg Is Just Doing What He'd Have Been Forced to Do

Yet tagged onto the end of the first paragraph is a seemingly casual aside: "Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance."

The reality is that most, if not all, of the measures are required by the General Data Protection Regulation, a law imposed by the European Union which becomes enforceable from May 25th. The ability to download your photos and posts and move them elsewhere? That falls under the GDPR's "Data Portability" stipulations. To delete data? The GDPR dubs that the "Right to be Forgotten". Seeing how your data is used to push ads in your direction? That's the "Right to Access".

Accelerating the measures is clearly politically expedient, which is why I chuckled at the assertion in the press release headline that "It's Time". As with so much news-flow relating to data over the past two years, there's an overwhelming sense that the barn door is casually being closed long after the horse has bolted.

Admittedly, Facebook would only have been forced to implement the new GDPR measures in Europe. But it would have been a pain anyway to manage two different data policies around the world.

There's little doubt that the measures imposed by GDPR will hurt Zuckerberg's company. Having so many of your photos stored on the social network, for instance, discourages you from quitting. It builds "stickiness", as the industry calls it. Now you can download and delete all those snaps, it's easier to kick your Facebook habit. That could prove significant: Its daily active users had already declined in the U.S. in the fourth quarter for the first time.

Mark Zuckerberg Is Just Doing What He'd Have Been Forced to Do

The penalty, should Facebook infringe any of these European rules, is relatively steep: 4 percent of global revenue. For 2017, that would mean writing a check for $1.6 billion.

The new measures are undeniably in the interest of the consumer. But only the timing is voluntary.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

  1. The GDPR also requires "Privacy by Design": data protection must henceforth be at the core of all such services.

To contact the author of this story: Alex Webb in London at awebb25@bloomberg.net.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.