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Facebook is as bad for your health as smoking, say tech experts, who think the cure is breaking up the social network

Business Insider India logoBusiness Insider India 23/1/2019 Jake Kanter,Jake Kanter
Mark Zuckerberg looking at the camera: Facebook is as bad for your health as smoking, say tech experts, who think the cure is breaking up the social network © Business Insider Facebook is as bad for your health as smoking, say tech experts, who think the cure is breaking up the social network

Facebook is causing as much damage to society as smoking does to people's health, according to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and other tech experts.

Mark Zuckerberg's former mentor Roger McNamee told Business Insider: "The incentives to manipulate attention are all about preying on the weakest elements of human psychology."

He and Jim Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, think the time has come for tough regulation - and even a breakup of Facebook.

© Getty DAVOS - Nearly a year ago to the day, tech billionaire Marc Benioff chose the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Switzerland to tear into Facebook.

Speaking to CNBC, the Salesforce CEO said Mark Zuckerberg's social network should be regulated by US lawmakers with the same vigour as the cigarette industry.

It's a theory he has since built on a number of times, perhaps most vividly in November, when he told tech journalist Kara Swisher: "Facebook is the new cigarettes. It's addictive, it's not good for you, there's people trying to get you to use it that even you don't understand what's going on."

© Reuters Since then, Facebook has continued to be used as a tool for democratic interference and has been at the centre of giant data scandals, not least the Cambridge Analytica breach.

And the people Benioff credits with helping him arrive at his opinion are more convinced than ever that Facebook is as bad for people as smoking, and action is needed.

Jim Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, which lobbies for better protections for children online, was one of the people Benioff spoke to before rounding on Facebook.

© Getty "We believe there are huge issues around addiction, attention, and distraction caused by social media platforms," he told Business Insider. "Last year was a tipping point moment in the relationship between tech and global society. 

The emperor was shown to have no clothes, meaning Facebook. And Facebook and others were exposed for the fact that they committed assaults on our democratic institutions."

Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor and former mentor to Zuckerberg, was another who discussed the tobacco analogy with Benioff.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Roger McNamee © Provided by Business Insider Inc Roger McNamee He told Business Insider: "Marc Benioff has chosen to look at this through the lens of public health, which, in my opinion, is the exactly the right starting point.

"The incentives to manipulate attention are all about preying on the weakest elements of human psychology. It's no longer enough just to know a lot about us, the goal now is to change what we think and what we do."

Steyer added: "The cigarette comparison was awesome in my opinion because the average person gets it .

There needs to a global conversation about this, and there needs to be common sense regulation of the tech companies."

© Getty

A break up could be the cure

The Common Sense Media CEO was involved in drawing up new privacy laws in California and was in Brussels, Belgium, last week to talk to lawmakers about GDPR and other tech regulation.

"Now people realise there has to be a balanced approach to tech. The idea that they will protect the public interest and self-regulate is folly. You need a much more public interest-orientated approach," he explained.

McNamee thinks the power of companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon should be curbed. In a piece for Time magazine ahead of the release of his book next month, he suggested stopping them from making acquisitions and preventing data sharing between subsidiaries.

© Getty "The economy would benefit from breaking them up," he added. Steyer agreed. He said: "Maybe they should be forced to divest of Instagram and Facebook.

[A breakup] would not be a bad idea at all. Let them concentrate on their core business."

Facebook declined to comment. COO Sheryl Sandberg told the DLD conference in Munich on Sunday that Facebook is open to working with regulators and is striving to improve. "We need to stop abuse more quickly and we need to do better to protect people's data. We have acknowledged our mistakes," she said.

Related: Here are the major world leaders and royals going to Davos — and those staying at home (Business Insider)

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