An Open Letter to members of United States Congress Regarding the Social Media User Data Privacy Bill.
I am writing to you regarding the User Data Privacy Bill that you and your congressional colleagues are actively working on, and as mentioned, this bill is important to protect users from any social media platform not just TikTok.
This hits home for me because, allegedly, my personal user data was stolen in a data privacy breach involving Facebook, and I am presently engaged in a legal battle regarding copyright infringement, against Universal Music Group (UMG), Capitol Records, and Katy Perry, and other songwriters, linked to the purportedly stolen user data. My case number is 2:20-CV-09843-FLA, It’s all public information, you can access it using Pacer. Or simply Google “Michele Ronk v Katy Perry”, you can read the amended complaint here.
UMG + Facebook Deal including User Data Access
At the heart of my situation is that Universal Music Group stuck a deal with Facebook in 2017, which gave them access to Facebook user data, including my song I posted to Facebook:
– FACEBOOK AND UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP STRIKE UNPRECEDENTED GLOBAL AGREEMENT, Universal Music, Dec 21, 2017, https://www.universalmusic.com/facebook-universal-music-group-strike-unprecedented-global-agreement/
UMG openly talks about its usage of this user data in it’s 2021 Euronext Amsterdam Prospectus, https://www.vivendi.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Universal-Music-Group-Prospectus-14-September-2021.pdf, UMG explicitly states how it uses “new data analysis” derived from Facebook and TikTok user data. UMG uses “research and development to employ data that was previously unavailable” which it provides to its “creative partners”, which includes data from “social media platforms”, and makes it available to, among others, its “songwriters”. See the following sections of the prospectus:
– Section 11.7.8 – “Leading Relationships with Platforms” – Page 99
– Section 11.9.1 – “Research and Development” – Page 106
– Section 11.9.2 – “Artist and Repertoire” – Page 107
– Section 11.10 – “Music Publishing” – Page 109
TikTok and Facebook Peddle User Data Access, to UMG and others
Even TikTok has shared user data with UMG, which isn’t my exact scenario, but yet another example of social media sharing user data with big companies like major Music companies, and is an erosion of a users data privacy.
– TikTok Gets Rights to Universal Music Group’s Catalog, dot.la, Feb 08. 2021, https://dot.la/tiktok-music-2650407336.html
Mark Zuckerburg, is known as the “master of leverage”, who commonly leverages Facebook’s user data in return for something of value from the partner to enrich Facebook’s user experiences. Facebook has shown to be a major peddler of it’s user data in its agreements, opening surface area and even loopholes for companies who want to exploit the data they are accessing.
Michael Vernal, Director of Engineering at Facebook was quoted in a leaked internal document describing some of these deals, saying, “We gave a bunch of stuff ‘for free’ historically (data, distribution) and now we’re making you ‘pay’ for it via reciprocal value…”. “For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”
In general, those documents showed “several examples suggesting that [Facebook’s privacy] changes (that Facebook announced in 2014) were designed to cement Facebook’s power in the marketplace, not to protect users”. Some companies, for example, Netflix and Spotify, where Troy Carter was an executive from 2016 – 2018, were given the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages. Amazon was given extended access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising and partnering with the social network on the launch of its Fire smartphone.
– As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening For Tech Giants, NY Times, Dec 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/technology/facebook-privacy.html
– Mark Zuckerberg leveraged Facebook user data to fight rivals and help friends, leaked documents show, NBC News, Apr 16, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/mark-zuckerberg-leveraged-facebook-user-data-fight-rivals-help-friends-n994706
Facebook has been peddling and getting in trouble for user data privacy violations for a long time
Of course, Facebook has even faced lawsuits and the largest FTC fines ever levied over previous breaches of user data privacy:
– Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook%E2%80%93Cambridge_Analytica_data_scandal
– Facebook to be fined $5bn for Cambridge Analytica privacy violations – reports, Jul 12, 2019, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/12/facebook-fine-ftc-privacy-violations
– Facebook privacy settlement approved: Nearly 1.6 million Illinois users will ‘expeditiously’ get at least $345, Chicago Tribune, February 26, 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-facebook-privacy-settlement-approval-20210227-okljqhsiargl7ijvzzfcotpyby-story.html
– Governor Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls Highlight Proposed Legislation to Increase Data Privacy and Security, Gov. Ron DeSantis, February 15, 2021, https://www.flgov.com/2021/02/15/governor-ron-desantis-and-house-speaker-chris-sprowls-highlight-proposed-legislation-to-increase-data-privacy-and-security/
– Thievery Corporations: Don Henley on How Giant Online Platforms Rip Off Creators — And How Congress Can Help, Billboard, June 30, 2020 https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/legal-and-management/9412006/don-henley-eagles-interview-online-platforms-rip-off-creators-congress-help
There are even previous congressional hearings on this topic, which I’m sure you already aware of, for example Facebook admits to have sprawling data access with dozens of large companies:
– House Energy and Commerce Questions for the Record, Facebook, Jun 29, 1028, https://web.archive.org/web/20180703161406/https://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF00/20180411/108090/HHRG-115-IF00-Wstate-ZuckerbergM-20180411-SD003.pdf?mod=article_inline
User Data getting Exploited through Loopholes
My case actually faces a peculiar hurdle, because there is an apparent loophole that big companies who exploit user data can do so under the cover of obscure and private user data sharing deals, and Facebook has shown to be a major peddler of user data in its agreements, and in copyright infringement there is a concept of having to prove “reasonable opportunity to view”, which this loophole plays nicely into for those who’d want to exploit it, a company can easily hold these backdoor user data access deals and then hide behind “access” laws.
Call to Action for Something to Change, Protect User Data Privacy on Social Media
Something has to change because, like my case, and I’m sure there are plenty of others, where companies are taking advantage of users through accessing their user data and is able to exploit their access with no oversight or regulations.
I am asking for Congress to open up an investigation into Facebook’s user data sharing agreements, which can be shrouded in obscurity, and these companies can do whatever they want with this user data and get away with it, we need to create a Social Media User Data Privacy Bill that prevents runaway user data privacy invasion.
Copyright Laws need updating… “the concept of “access” is increasingly diluted in our digitally interconnected world” – Skidmore
I am asking for Congress to help copyright infringement laws, which need to be updated to reflect the data accessibility of today’s age, “access” is so much easier now than it was in the 70’s, lawyers are having a hard time due to these outdated copyright laws and not even wanting to take cases on due to things like “access”. In 2020, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said:
“As a practical matter, the concept of “access” is increasingly diluted in our digitally interconnected world. Access is often proved by the wide dissemination of the copyrighted work. See Loomis v. Cornish, 836 F.3d 991, 995 (9th Cir. 2016). Given the ubiquity of ways to access media online, from YouTube to subscription services like Netflix and Spotify, access may be established by a trivial showing that the work is available on demand.”
– Skidmore v. Zeppelin, 952 F. 3d 1051 (9th Cir. 2020) at 1068.
This Skidmore case law is so new, Judges are afraid to take the 9th Circuit’s words on their face, like my current Judge is currently struggling with.
Thank you for listening, and please help me, and all Americans, to rein in this invasion of user data privacy.