India is by a long way the world’s largest WhatsApp nation. WhatsApp, like lots of messaging services, is an end-to-end encrypted service so we don’t have access, so we cannot share with law enforcement authorities the content of messages, unless the user sends them to us.
At the Express Adda held in Delhi, Nick Clegg, former UK Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook, spoke to Indian Express Group Executive Director Anant Goenka, and Associate Editor, The Indian Express, Shubhajit Roy on Brexit, data nationalism and challenging the analogy about data being the new oil
On the more powerful position: govt or corporate
I often hear this analogy that big global companies, in this case Facebook, have more power over people’s lives than governments do. I think that’s nonsense. If I think about decisions, often agonising decisions with lives involved within half-a-decade that David Cameron and I ran that government together — whether you go to war or not, whether you provide more money or not to hospitals or schools — these are things that touch people and their everyday lives in a much more material way than whether they use WhatsApp, Instagram or watch YouTube. I don’t want to belittle and certainly it is difficult to belittle the sheer scale of a company like Facebook, which has users across the globe, but they are using them according to their choice. None of that is as granular as the way in which governments really affect the everyday circumstances of people’s lives.
On social media’s influence on elections and Brexit
I have seen it asserted, I don’t know how many times that Brexit was influenced by the Russians or Facebook or by Cambridge Analytica for instance. All of these assertions are made completely blissfully ignorant of the facts. The first fact is that we know from the British regulator, the information commissioner’s office has the data from Cambridge, we don’t have it. You keep asking us to analyse it, we can’t analyse it because the watchdog has the data, we don’t. They have said publicly that there was no data from the British voters involved.
On Facebook being in a controversial place
Of course, it’s controversial and it’s controversial for good reason and Facebook has had to learn from its mistakes. Generally, there is a great deal of antipathy and suspicion about big corporate companies… There are, quite understandably, great concerns about privacy. And we are going through a tech clash. The pendulum is swinging, as it often does when you disrupt technologies. At the beginning, people think that the new technology — in our case, the social media — is going to be a solution to all problems. People like Mark Zuckerberg walk on water and can do no ill… Now all our problems, apparently, are the fault of social media… It is naive to overpraise technology but it is also foolish to be over-cynical about technology.
On WhatsApp and elections in India
India is by a long way the world’s largest WhatsApp nation. WhatsApp, like lots of messaging services, is an end-to-end encrypted service so we don’t have access, so we cannot share with law enforcement authorities the content of messages, unless the user sends them to us. That presents new challenges. How do we cooperate in a responsible and mature fashion under the law in response to legally sound requests for cooperation from law enforcement agencies… That was the subject of a lot of discussions (with the government). And I found it incredibly productive because I spent five years in Britain working with intelligent services, both in Britain and elsewhere, on common terrorist threats, and data is a really powerful weapon to defeat terrorism.