Experts say it’ll take more than just breaking up Facebook to rein in Big Tech and protect your data

Facebook mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019. Andrew Harnik/AP
  • If Facebook spun off Instagram and WhatsApp, it would still have all of your data.
  • Congress wants to force Facebook to share that data with other platforms to promote competition.
  • Experts say there needs to be a provision ensuring user rights are protected. Otherwise, expect “disaster.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A potential forced break up of Facebook has been discussed for years, and that conversation has only been re-ignited as Congress mulls five new bills designed to rein in Big Tech.

But what would that implosion mean for the mountain of personal data Facebook has already collected on its hundreds of millions of users? According to experts, not much.

Two of the five bills introduced last month would force Facebook to share that data with competing apps and platforms, a feature known as interoperability.

Experts told Insider this can be a good thing. It’s how tech companies work together to make services useful for you – like how you’re able to sign in to apps using your Facebook or Google credentials or send an email from Gmail to a Yahoo address. The practice encourages people to use multiple platforms, instead of getting siloed into one specific ecosystem.

The idea is to foster healthy online competition since tech giants would relinquish their dominant grip on hordes of data and would instead share them with rivals. That proposal also stipulates that Facebook share data with Instagram and WhatsApp if it did spin off the subsidiaries.

Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust law expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, told Insider it could be similar to when the Bell System telephone giant was broken up in 1984: all seven of the Bell branches still had access to certain information to maintain optimal operability.

But experts said simply forcing Facebook to divest its acquisitions wouldn’t mean better safeguarding user data.

Hovenkamp said that “a spinoff wouldn’t automatically take any data way” since who has what information has nothing to do with a potential breakup.

And it wouldn’t change how Facebook conducts its data-sharing business. Facebook can enter into a B2B “data-sharing agreement providing them with the exact same data they held prior to the spinout,” Tim Derdenger, an associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon, told Insider.

Instead, the experts said there would need to be some sort of provision included in the divestiture order to make sure that user data had adequate safety guards.

Otherwise, a plain and simple break-up could mean Facebook sharing your personal information with more entities to comply with interoperability requirements that are laid out in the proposed legislation.

“You’d need to have a mechanism so people could opt-out of sharing or specify what they do or don’t want shared,” Hovenkamp said.

Without that mechanism, user data would be shared more broadly – not exactly protected – in the name of healthy market competition.

“If there is no provision, it could be a disaster,” Hovenkamp said.