The global crash of Facebook Inc. exposed the risks of relying on its social networking products, and reinforced European regulators’ efforts to curb its reach, just as a US whistleblower’s testimony at home threatens to attract more unwanted attention.
As Europe woke up to find Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger services back online, the magnitude of Monday’s blackout quickly sparked criticism. The European Union’s antitrust chief and digital czar, Margrethe Vestager, said Facebook’s failure would draw attention to the company’s dominance.
“It is always important that people have alternatives and choices. That’s why we’re working to keep digital markets fair and contestable,” said Vestager. “A failure as we have seen shows that it is never good to rely only on a few big players, whoever they are.”
The network problem that shut down services used by more than 2.75 billion people couldn’t have come at a worse time. After a US television interview on Sunday, whistleblower Frances Haugen will appear before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday and tell lawmakers what she calls the “terrifying truth” about Facebook. Haugen’s allegations that the company puts profit over user safety continued to make headlines when the Facebook services were down.
The revelations prompted US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to highlight the risks faced by countries that rely on communications services.
Facebook climbed a whopping 1.3% to $330.33 in New York, correcting a 4.9% drop on Monday.
Facebook is already facing numerous antitrust and privacy investigations across Europe, as well as intense scrutiny of even small deals, such as its planned acquisition of a customer service software provider. The company was fined 225 million euros ($261 million) last month for the failure of WhatsApp data and faces separate antitrust investigations from the European Commission and the German competition watchdog Bundeskartellamt.
EU lawmakers will vote in the coming months on new laws that would curtail the ability of powerful internet platforms like Facebook to expand into new services. The disruption to services showed the “serious consequences” of reliance on one company for key communication channels, and that Facebook should never have bought Instagram and WhatsApp, said Rasmus Andresen, a German Green member of the European Parliament.
“Everyone in the European Union and in the US should realize by now that we need strict rules against quasi-monopolies,” Andresen said in a statement. “We need close transatlantic cooperation.”
The event sparked calls for a new digital “order” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who has little tolerance for political criticism on social media. The hours-long shutdown showed how “fragile” social networks are, said Fahrettin Altun, its presidential communications director, urging rapid development of “domestic and national” alternatives. “The problem we’ve seen has shown us how our data is at risk, how quickly and easily our social freedoms can be restricted,” Altun said in a series of Twitter posts.
The nationalist party Alternative for Germany welcomed the disruption, with lawmaker Beatrix von Storch saying she hopes competitors will benefit.
In Nigeria, the power outage silenced President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications team, government officials and governors for six hours in 36 states. The government increasingly relies on Facebook to inform the public after Twitter’s services were blocked on June 5 in Africa’s most populous country. A spokesman for the president’s office declined to comment.
Hungarian opposition politicians who use Facebook products to bypass state media outlets complained that the company could not be relied upon while campaigning against Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Facebook is “for us opposition politicians one of the last media where we can talk to you and that is not completely dominated by,” Orban’s political party Fidesz said Budapest’s mayor Gergely Karacsony in a video posted Tuesday . Problems with the platform threaten its ability to disseminate information, he said.
The outage forced some telephone companies into action. The Polish Play unit of Paris-based telecommunications company Iliad SA recorded an eightfold increase in calls to its customer service center between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. local time, it said in a blog post on its website. It had to reconfigure its network to avoid overloading.
“This outage shows that we are overly dependent on one company and that there is a need for diversity and more competition,” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group in London, said in an interview. “Their reliance on data-driven, attention-optimizing products is dangerous and must be challenged through interventions that allow for more competition.”