Zuckerberg was born in 1984, the year the Apple Macintosh was introduced. He founded Facebook in 2004. He launched Facebook’s program to build cloud data centers in 2011. His fortune was estimated October 5 at $117 billion, but that underestimates him. That’s because he controls the voting stock of Facebook, now worth $913 billion, so his power is greater than his money.
Facebook isn’t its eponymous service. It’s not Instagram. It’s not WhatsApp. Facebook is its 16 data centers, the thousands of miles of fiber cables connecting them with local centers, and with the world. About 1.6 billion people use Facebook services every day, according to its most recent quarterly report. Americans can take or leave Facebook, but people in the “Global South” depend upon it.
Facebook is the only one of the five “Cloud Czars,” companies whose ownership of hyperscale data centers control the world economy, to use its system mainly for free services. Facebook is the only one of the Czars still run by its founder, the only one that’s still as much a private company as a public one.
Facebook doesn’t rent capacity like Amazon. It doesn’t let anyone else run software off it, the way Google and Microsoft do. Apple’s cloud is devoted to paid services. When Facebook went down October 4, only Facebook (and its users) were hurt.
With 10 of its 16 centers in the U.S., America’s is the only government that can rein-in Facebook, that can order access to its algorithms and reduce its harms. But our system is uniquely incapable of such control, especially right now. An agency like the FTC may act, but Facebook takes them to court. Courts can take years to make a ruling, and it’s often opaque, subject to further action. Congress is incapable. Facebook can be weaponized by any political actor, as it has been consistently over the last 5 years, and there’s little the victims can do about it.
The irony is that Facebook today doesn’t want to be Facebook anymore. It wants to be Apple. Zuckerberg has been investing heavily in virtual reality, in Oculus headsets and gaming software. He wants paid services like transaction processing and game play to slowly replace advertising as sources of cash flow.
Separating Facebook’s cloud from its services right now would destroy Facebook. Free services are the basis of its cash flow. Force those services to be paid and you’re killing the one thing that maintains America’s influence in the world, namely our control over the free Internet.
It’s not just Mark Zuckerberg dancing with the devil. We all are. The Biden Administration needs to hire Frances Haugen.