‘Unprecedented and un-American’: Facebook co-founder joins calls to break up company

Washington: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes called on Thursday for the world's largest social media company to be split in three, saying in an opinion piece in the New York Times and a round of media interviews that chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg should be held responsible for privacy lapses.

Hughes joins US politicians who have also urged anti-trust action to break up big tech companies as well as federal privacy regulation. Facebook has been under scrutiny from regulators around the world over its data sharing practices and hate speech and misinformation on its networks.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook, holds too much power, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes said.Credit:Bloomberg

Facebook rejected Hughes' call for WhatsApp and Instagram to be made into separate companies.

"Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the break up of a successful American company," said Facebook spokesman Nick Clegg in a statement.

"Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for."

Hughes, who is a former roommate of Zuckerberg, left Facebook in 2007 and then went to work for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Hughes, who bought and then sold the New Republic magazine, wrote a book last year about income inequality.

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.Credit:NBC

Hughes co-founded Facebook in 2004 at Harvard with the company's chief executive officer Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. He quit Facebook in 2007 and later said in a LinkedIn post that he made half a billion dollars for his three years of work.

"It's been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven't worked at the company in a decade. But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility," said Hughes, who later was an online strategist for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, in March vowed to break up Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet Inc's Google if elected US president to promote competition in the tech sector.

"Today’s big tech companies have too much power – over our economy, our society, & our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private info for profit, hurt small businesses & stifled innovation. It's time to #BreakUpBigTech," Warren said on Twitter on Thursday.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, told CNBC on Thursday he thinks Facebook needs to be broken up and that the Justice Department's antitrust division needs to begin an investigation.

US President Donald Trump has called for the creation of "more, and fairer" social media companies in response to discrimination he alleges he has faced as a Republican from Twitter.

Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, said in a statement that he agreed that in retrospect that US regulators "should not have approved Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram & WhatsApp in 2012".

He said that "the way forward is to heavily scrutinise future mergers and to ensure no company has anti-competitive platform privileges".

In one of a number of security and privacy scandals to hit the company, Facebook is accused of inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The company has been in advanced talks with the US Federal Trade Commission to settle a year-old investigation and said last month it expected to spend between $US3 billion and $US5 billion on a penalty.

On Monday, Republican and Democratic US senators criticised reported plans for the settlement, calling on the FTC to impose harsher penalties and more restrictions on Facebook's business practices.

Hughes said he last met with Zuckerberg in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

"Mark is a good, kind person. But I'm angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks," Hughes said.

"And I'm worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them."

Reuters

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