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Library Helps ‘Left-behind’ Nepali Women Gain Cash, Confidence

For farmers trying to figure out how to heal a sick cow or grow tomatoes commercially in this Himalayan community, help is at hand in the form of a crumbling, earthquake-scarred library.

In a rural area where searching for information online or paying for expert advice is rarely an option, the library is a first stop for female farmers daunted by their new role: running the family farm while their husbands are away looking for work.

“Most of the men have migrated for money now in Nepal. It’s a very huge problem,” said Meera Marahattha, the “human Google” who runs the library.

But there’s an upside. “Because of this male migration, females have the opportunity to lead,” she added – sometimes for the first time.

Migration is growing around the world among families hit by disasters, conflict or shifting weather patterns. In Nepal – and many other places – women are often left behind in rural areas as men seek work in cities or overseas.

Taking on all the work can be exhausting, and being alone is dangerous for some women. But for others, the absence of men can open up opportunities to try out their own ideas, learn new skills and gain confidence.

In Nepal, the Tribeni community library in Bhimdhunga is one of 22 that are part of a “Practical Answers” program jointly run by READ Nepal, a literacy and anti-poverty organization, and Practical Action, a British charity.

Besides providing resource books, the hubs collect queries from across the community, log them and set about providing tailored answers to farming and other technical challenges.

In Bhimdhunga, the library offers a computer suite, a children’s nursery and a women’s health section, attracting about 200 active members from the mountainous neighborhood.

Marahattha, the library head who is a community member herself, often travels house-to-house visiting remote mountain-top farms to field questions and train female farmers.

“We have a lot of inquiries,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, proudly flicking through log books filled with neat rows of curling Nepali scrawl.

During the planting season, she might receive as many as 1,000 questions a month – but on average it is closer to 500, she said. They range from how to treat crop diseases to how to use a computer or market goods in town.

While the library is open to all, Marahattha has found more interest from women – in particular those suddenly put in charge of their households as their husbands or sons migrate abroad in search of work.

That change has offered some women a chance to try out their own farming ideas, becoming more confident and boosting their family’s finances in the process.

But there are “some negatives too”, Marahattha admitted.

Women often complain to her of feeling overwhelmed, as if “all the responsibilities are on their head”, looking after both land and children.

And the shift in family dynamics, together with the disruption to family life that accompanies migration, has led to a rise in the number of divorces, Marahattha said.

Self-Sufficient

Wearing a red shawl draped across her shoulder to match her bright red bindi and lipstick, Urumila Lama, 33, still has a youthful face – though her back bent from toil makes her seem older.

She lives with her 11-year-old son on a remote farm on a steep hillside overlooking the lush Kathmandu Valley. But their living quarters are a tin shack, hastily built after a powerful earthquake in 2015 reduced their home, and many others in the area, to rubble.

The disaster killed nearly 9,000 people and disrupted the lives of more than 8 million.

“After the earthquake, our whole house collapsed. Everything went bad and my husband went to a foreign country to earn,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But then she heard about the agricultural training being offered by Marahattha at the library and went along.

“I immediately took up the practices in my own house and have since been vegetable farming seriously,” said Lama, who has constructed a number of large plastic-covered tunnels and makeshift greenhouses to boost her vegetable production.

“I realized we can have a good income from this,” she said.

Initially, she earned about $60 a month from growing vegetables such as sweet peppers and tomatoes.

Today she makes triple that amount, and can pay for her son’s school fees and the family’s daily expenses without having to ask her husband for money.

“I was here alone. It was not my husband’s decision but my own to construct the greenhouses and start doing vegetable farming,” she said proudly.

“When my husband came back to visit he was surprised at what I was doing and how I’d gained knowledge,” she said. He urged her to “build a bigger greenhouse and grow more!”, she recalled.

The community library – although a simple idea – has proved hugely popular with the community, said Rakesh Khadka, a project officer with the Practical Answers program in Nepal.

Established in 2011, the facility was at first little used, but by 2013 “we were inundated”, he said.

Sometimes the library refers tough questions to Kathmandu, where experts can better advise on technical issues. But answers are often found locally, with women sharing solutions among themselves, Khadka said.

Little by little, women are becoming more self-sufficient and using the library less often or coming mainly to socialize, he added.

‘Cash Cows’

Crossing her sandy yard in bare feet, Chini Khadka, 55, pushes back a loose door to reveal a baby calf, closely guarded by its mother.

Khadka, who is illiterate and was married at just 9 years old, was happy to show off the cattle that have made her a respected businesswoman in her remote Himalayan village.

“After my husband left me, I lived with my mother-in-law, who took pity on me. But she died a few years ago. We had many expenses for my children’s studies, so I had to make an income,” she said.

She heard about the library and started training with the other women. “Then I got interested in dairy farming because I have very limited land,” she said.

Khadka learned to rear cows, build sheds and calculate the correct nutrient requirements for her animals. She now has eight cows, some of which are pregnant, with each fully grown animal worth about $1,000 at market, she said.

She also sells milk in town and manure as fertilizer to other farmers.

“As I grew in confidence, I leased land from a neighbor and have been planting some food crops too,” she said. “I’m very, very happy doing this. It fulfills me.”

Khadka earns about 30,000 Nepalese rupees ($288) a month.

That’s more than her son, who works as a teacher, she boasts – and is even enough for her to hire another female farmhand to help tend the vegetables.

“Before I used to have very low self-esteem,” she said, smiling. “Now I feel like society respects me and treats me better.”

($1 = 104.2200 Nepalese rupees)

Library Helps ‘Left-behind’ Nepali Women Gain Cash, Confidence

For farmers trying to figure out how to heal a sick cow or grow tomatoes commercially in this Himalayan community, help is at hand in the form of a crumbling, earthquake-scarred library.

In a rural area where searching for information online or paying for expert advice is rarely an option, the library is a first stop for female farmers daunted by their new role: running the family farm while their husbands are away looking for work.

“Most of the men have migrated for money now in Nepal. It’s a very huge problem,” said Meera Marahattha, the “human Google” who runs the library.

But there’s an upside. “Because of this male migration, females have the opportunity to lead,” she added – sometimes for the first time.

Migration is growing around the world among families hit by disasters, conflict or shifting weather patterns. In Nepal – and many other places – women are often left behind in rural areas as men seek work in cities or overseas.

Taking on all the work can be exhausting, and being alone is dangerous for some women. But for others, the absence of men can open up opportunities to try out their own ideas, learn new skills and gain confidence.

In Nepal, the Tribeni community library in Bhimdhunga is one of 22 that are part of a “Practical Answers” program jointly run by READ Nepal, a literacy and anti-poverty organization, and Practical Action, a British charity.

Besides providing resource books, the hubs collect queries from across the community, log them and set about providing tailored answers to farming and other technical challenges.

In Bhimdhunga, the library offers a computer suite, a children’s nursery and a women’s health section, attracting about 200 active members from the mountainous neighborhood.

Marahattha, the library head who is a community member herself, often travels house-to-house visiting remote mountain-top farms to field questions and train female farmers.

“We have a lot of inquiries,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, proudly flicking through log books filled with neat rows of curling Nepali scrawl.

During the planting season, she might receive as many as 1,000 questions a month – but on average it is closer to 500, she said. They range from how to treat crop diseases to how to use a computer or market goods in town.

While the library is open to all, Marahattha has found more interest from women – in particular those suddenly put in charge of their households as their husbands or sons migrate abroad in search of work.

That change has offered some women a chance to try out their own farming ideas, becoming more confident and boosting their family’s finances in the process.

But there are “some negatives too”, Marahattha admitted.

Women often complain to her of feeling overwhelmed, as if “all the responsibilities are on their head”, looking after both land and children.

And the shift in family dynamics, together with the disruption to family life that accompanies migration, has led to a rise in the number of divorces, Marahattha said.

Self-Sufficient

Wearing a red shawl draped across her shoulder to match her bright red bindi and lipstick, Urumila Lama, 33, still has a youthful face – though her back bent from toil makes her seem older.

She lives with her 11-year-old son on a remote farm on a steep hillside overlooking the lush Kathmandu Valley. But their living quarters are a tin shack, hastily built after a powerful earthquake in 2015 reduced their home, and many others in the area, to rubble.

The disaster killed nearly 9,000 people and disrupted the lives of more than 8 million.

“After the earthquake, our whole house collapsed. Everything went bad and my husband went to a foreign country to earn,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But then she heard about the agricultural training being offered by Marahattha at the library and went along.

“I immediately took up the practices in my own house and have since been vegetable farming seriously,” said Lama, who has constructed a number of large plastic-covered tunnels and makeshift greenhouses to boost her vegetable production.

“I realized we can have a good income from this,” she said.

Initially, she earned about $60 a month from growing vegetables such as sweet peppers and tomatoes.

Today she makes triple that amount, and can pay for her son’s school fees and the family’s daily expenses without having to ask her husband for money.

“I was here alone. It was not my husband’s decision but my own to construct the greenhouses and start doing vegetable farming,” she said proudly.

“When my husband came back to visit he was surprised at what I was doing and how I’d gained knowledge,” she said. He urged her to “build a bigger greenhouse and grow more!”, she recalled.

The community library – although a simple idea – has proved hugely popular with the community, said Rakesh Khadka, a project officer with the Practical Answers program in Nepal.

Established in 2011, the facility was at first little used, but by 2013 “we were inundated”, he said.

Sometimes the library refers tough questions to Kathmandu, where experts can better advise on technical issues. But answers are often found locally, with women sharing solutions among themselves, Khadka said.

Little by little, women are becoming more self-sufficient and using the library less often or coming mainly to socialize, he added.

‘Cash Cows’

Crossing her sandy yard in bare feet, Chini Khadka, 55, pushes back a loose door to reveal a baby calf, closely guarded by its mother.

Khadka, who is illiterate and was married at just 9 years old, was happy to show off the cattle that have made her a respected businesswoman in her remote Himalayan village.

“After my husband left me, I lived with my mother-in-law, who took pity on me. But she died a few years ago. We had many expenses for my children’s studies, so I had to make an income,” she said.

She heard about the library and started training with the other women. “Then I got interested in dairy farming because I have very limited land,” she said.

Khadka learned to rear cows, build sheds and calculate the correct nutrient requirements for her animals. She now has eight cows, some of which are pregnant, with each fully grown animal worth about $1,000 at market, she said.

She also sells milk in town and manure as fertilizer to other farmers.

“As I grew in confidence, I leased land from a neighbor and have been planting some food crops too,” she said. “I’m very, very happy doing this. It fulfills me.”

Khadka earns about 30,000 Nepalese rupees ($288) a month.

That’s more than her son, who works as a teacher, she boasts – and is even enough for her to hire another female farmhand to help tend the vegetables.

“Before I used to have very low self-esteem,” she said, smiling. “Now I feel like society respects me and treats me better.”

($1 = 104.2200 Nepalese rupees)

Trump Muddles DACA Program in Anti-immigrant Twitter Comments

While President Donald Trump has said illegal immigrants heading toward the United States are trying to take advantage of an Obama-era policy that shields certain people from deportation, the program known as DACA is actually not open to new entrants.

At issue is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Republican president last September ordered rescinded. Under DACA, hundreds of thousands of young adults dubbed “Dreamers” who were brought into the United States illegally as children have been shielded from deportation and given work permits.

On Sunday, apparently in reference to a caravan of 1,500 Central Americans who are journeying through Mexico toward the United States, Trump wrote on Twitter: “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!”

But there is no “act” to get in on. Newly arriving illegal immigrants cannot win protections under DACA, created in 2012 by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, for two reasons.

Anyone admitted into the program had to have been living continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007, along with other requirements. In addition, Trump himself ordered an end to the program, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is not accepting new applicants.

Under Trump’s action, DACA was supposed to have begun winding down last month. But courts have ruled that Trump acted improperly and that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants currently enrolled still qualified for protections while the legal fight over DACA unfolds.

When he announced he was ending DACA, Trump urged Congress to come up with a legislative fix. Referring to the Dreamers, Trump said, “I have a great heart for the folks we’re talking about, a great love for them.”

Seven months later, DACA participants are living with the uncertainty over whether they will be protected or targeted for deportation. 

Meanwhile, following a series of failed negotiations with Democrats and some Republicans in Congress, Trump has been fuming over the refusal of lawmakers to fully fund a $25 billion wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexican border. The wall became a bargaining chip in DACA replacement legislation.

“NO MORE DACA DEAL!,” Trump said on Twitter as he blamed Democrats for the situation. “DACA is dead.”

Matthew Wright, a government professor at American University in Washington, called Trump’s tweets “not connected to reality.” Wright noted that Trump rejected several Democratic offers to address DACA, including at one point a deal that would have provided $25 billion for his wall.

Last month, Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Trump’s rejection of that offer was the “high-water mark” for the wall’s prospects in Congress, where support for it is tepid at best.

Trump Muddles DACA Program in Anti-immigrant Twitter Comments

While President Donald Trump has said illegal immigrants heading toward the United States are trying to take advantage of an Obama-era policy that shields certain people from deportation, the program known as DACA is actually not open to new entrants.

At issue is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Republican president last September ordered rescinded. Under DACA, hundreds of thousands of young adults dubbed “Dreamers” who were brought into the United States illegally as children have been shielded from deportation and given work permits.

On Sunday, apparently in reference to a caravan of 1,500 Central Americans who are journeying through Mexico toward the United States, Trump wrote on Twitter: “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!”

But there is no “act” to get in on. Newly arriving illegal immigrants cannot win protections under DACA, created in 2012 by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, for two reasons.

Anyone admitted into the program had to have been living continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007, along with other requirements. In addition, Trump himself ordered an end to the program, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is not accepting new applicants.

Under Trump’s action, DACA was supposed to have begun winding down last month. But courts have ruled that Trump acted improperly and that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants currently enrolled still qualified for protections while the legal fight over DACA unfolds.

When he announced he was ending DACA, Trump urged Congress to come up with a legislative fix. Referring to the Dreamers, Trump said, “I have a great heart for the folks we’re talking about, a great love for them.”

Seven months later, DACA participants are living with the uncertainty over whether they will be protected or targeted for deportation. 

Meanwhile, following a series of failed negotiations with Democrats and some Republicans in Congress, Trump has been fuming over the refusal of lawmakers to fully fund a $25 billion wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexican border. The wall became a bargaining chip in DACA replacement legislation.

“NO MORE DACA DEAL!,” Trump said on Twitter as he blamed Democrats for the situation. “DACA is dead.”

Matthew Wright, a government professor at American University in Washington, called Trump’s tweets “not connected to reality.” Wright noted that Trump rejected several Democratic offers to address DACA, including at one point a deal that would have provided $25 billion for his wall.

Last month, Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Trump’s rejection of that offer was the “high-water mark” for the wall’s prospects in Congress, where support for it is tepid at best.

US Gubernatorial Races to Feature Record Number of Women

A record number of women are running for governors’ offices in the U.S. this year.

The Center for American Women and Politics said Monday that 40 Democratic or Republican women have filed candidacy papers in 19 states where the deadline has passed. The number is likely to rise because filing remains open in 17 other states.

The center at Rutgers University in New Jersey says the previous high mark for major party female gubernatorial candidates was 34, set in 1994. This year’s field includes 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

At least one woman is running for governor in each state where filing has ended. Colorado and Maine have the most, with five female candidates.

The candidates include three incumbents, 15 challengers and 22 running for open seats in eight states.

US Gubernatorial Races to Feature Record Number of Women

A record number of women are running for governors’ offices in the U.S. this year.

The Center for American Women and Politics said Monday that 40 Democratic or Republican women have filed candidacy papers in 19 states where the deadline has passed. The number is likely to rise because filing remains open in 17 other states.

The center at Rutgers University in New Jersey says the previous high mark for major party female gubernatorial candidates was 34, set in 1994. This year’s field includes 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

At least one woman is running for governor in each state where filing has ended. Colorado and Maine have the most, with five female candidates.

The candidates include three incumbents, 15 challengers and 22 running for open seats in eight states.

Legal Defense Funds for Undocumented in US Create Another Front in Immigration Conflict

While the U.S. federal government is working to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, some U.S. states and cities have started legal funds to defend them, opening up a new front in the conflict over immigration.

About 13 jurisdictions have joined a network to expand legal representation for immigrants facing detention and deportation — the ultimate line of defense, officials said.

The Safe Cities Network pledges to keep communities “safe and strong by protecting due process and providing legal representation to immigrants facing deportation.”

“We’re not just talking about one person going through. One person going to court. One in detention and going through the deportation process. You’re talking about families, entire families and communities being impacted,” Annie Chen, program director at the New York-based VERA Institute of Justice, a data center that partners with local and state government officials to change the U.S. justice system.

WATCH: Washington, US States at Odds Over Immigration Policy

“I would say with increased immigration enforcement, changes, harsher immigration enforcement policies, I think that city and county officials are more aware of this, and they see the impact in their communities,” Chen said.

The city of Baltimore in Maryland became one of the most recent jurisdictions to establish a legal defense fund in March when the city allocated $100,000 to help immigrants fight deportation.

The money was added to a pool of private money and was matched by funding from VERA.  

Catalina Rodriguez, director of the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, said following the increase in immigration enforcement that started in February 2017, the city received calls from residents.

“All of these individuals [arrested] were not necessarily criminals. Their ‘crime’ was they were here [in the U.S.] undocumented, and they had already a deportation order. However, they were members of our city, business owners, and contributors. So, there was a lot of panic in our city,” Rodriguez said.

Being in the U.S. unlawfully is a civil violation, not a criminal one. Rodriguez said Baltimore learned from New York, the first U.S. city to have a legal fund pilot program. The Baltimore fund is expected to help about 40 people going through removal proceedings.

Pros and cons

The immigration data tracker TRAC reports that out of 304,642 immigrants detained from 2002 to February 2018, only 62,697 had legal representation. 

According to immigration lawyers and advocates, access to legal representation “greatly” increases an immigrant’s chance of winning his/her case.

“In the criminal justice system, if you can’t afford an attorney, you get a public defender. In immigration court, you don’t. You have the right to pay for your own attorney. And if you can’t afford one, you do not have access to the same due process,” Chen told VOA.

Not everyone agrees with public money going into a legal defense fund.

Through a spokesman, Maryland’s Republican party chairman Dirk Haire told The Baltimore Sun that Maryland Republicans “questioned whether the money is being wisely spent, given funding shortfall issues in Baltimore, such as public schools without heat.”

“My hunch is that the vast majority of Baltimore residents would prefer to have that money spent on heat and air conditioning in Baltimore public schools instead of legal fees,” Haire said.

Baltimore city councilman Zeke Cohen told the Sun that in Southeast Baltimore, the area he represents, a small-business owner, a popular barber and a father dropping off a child at school were among the arrests.

“First, we lost a barber, then a small-business owner. Finally, a father was handcuffed and detained after dropping off his 9-year-old at school. The child’s mother is back in Honduras. What kind of a country do we live in that would orphan a child in order to enforce its broken immigration laws?” Cohen said.

Data from the New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders and mayors working toward immigration reform, shows that in the Baltimore metro area, there are 281,109 immigrant residents, or 10 percent of the population. In 2014, immigrants paid about $3.4 billion in taxes and had a spending power of $7.7 billion in the same region.

Feds vs. states

The legal fund network places some local jurisdictions at still greater odds with the federal government.

Governor Jerry Brown said in early March that the federal government was “basically going to war against the state of California” after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sued California over its so-called sanctuary state law.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump fired back via Twitter.

California is not the only state considered sanctuary, along with its numerous cities and counties. While the term “sanctuary” does not have a legal established meaning, it is generally applied to jurisdictions that choose not to participate with federal immigration agents.

“What happens is, if you don’t have someone complying with this and working with us, a criminal alien will be released from prison,” Tyler Q. Houlton, U.S. Department of Homeland Security press secretary, told reporters during an off-camera, on-the-record conversation.

Houlton said though cooperation is not a “mandatory thing,” immigration officers try to work with law enforcement to get undocumented immigrants off the street. He added that it is “much safer to pick up criminal aliens at the jail than it is on the streets.”

Many states and local jurisdictions support the federal government’s approach to immigration. Last week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors joined the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) lawsuit that condemns California’s sanctuary law, calling it unconstitutional. 

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement that DOJ “welcomes” Orange County’s decision.

“Orange County’s residents have experienced firsthand the negative effects of SB 54 [California’s sanctuary law], which mandates releasing criminal aliens back into their communities instead of into the custody of federal immigration authorities,” O’Malley said.

Facebook Faces Calls to Further Protect User Privacy

Facebook is a company in a hurry.

 

Since the world learned about the latest customer data controversy at Facebook, the social media network has unleashed a swarm of changes. But it’s unclear whether Facebook’s own reckoning will be enough to satisfy regulators and lawmakers.

 

“We’ve reached a tipping point with Facebook and privacy,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest advocacy group. “What’s most interesting at this moment are the number of forces — political, economic and social — that are converging. And I think the practical consequences is that something big will change.”

 

With more than 2 billion customers, Facebook has been in the hot seat in recent weeks over how an outside researcher gave the data of 50 million users to the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.

What if anything Cambridge Analytica has done with the data is unclear — the company claims it deleted it. But the situation has shone a spotlight on how much personal data is available on Facebook and how it is handled.

 

Pulling advertising

 

Sonos, a consumer electronics firm, Pep Boys, an auto parts and service retailer, Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, all stopped advertising on Facebook in response to the controversy.

 

“We would like to see a bit more transparency to the consumer and a bit more choice to the consumer,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

 

Her message to Facebook: “When you start taking this a bit more seriously and you start focusing and making changes, we’ll go back.”

In a Facebook post and an appearance on CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the controversy and vowed to do more to protect user data. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” he said.

The company also placed ads in Britain and the U.S. apologizing for a “breach of trust.”

A bevy of self-imposed changes

 

As state and federal regulators opened investigations and several congressional committees called on Zuckerberg to testify, Facebook has been busy rolling out changes.

 

The company made it easier for users to change privacy settings and has given them a quick way to download all the data that Facebook has on them. It has also cut off major data brokers.

 

Facebook may know soon whether its efforts will be enough.

 

Regulation or self-government?

 

Silicon Valley firms have long held that self-regulation, rather than government-imposed rules and regulations, would best allow for innovation. But the company also faces a bevy of state, federal and international regulators, which all may act against the firm.

 

In the U.S., Facebook’s chief concern is the Federal Trade Commission, which confirmed last month that it had opened an investigation into the company’s practices.

 

A key question will be if Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree it has with the consumer protection agency to obtain users’ permissions for everything it does with users’ data. Each violation is supposed to come with a $40,000 fine, which some analysts have speculated could cost Facebook billions.

 

In addition to the FTC, several state attorneys general have opened up an investigation into Facebook.

 

Beyond regulators, lawmakers in Washington and in state houses around the country are discussing what can be done to better protect social media customers. Zuckerberg is expected to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

 

Meanwhile, the company faces possible investigations in Britain and Canada.

 

Outside scrutiny

 

It is not just Facebook that deserves more scrutiny but all of the “advertising-powered web,” said Gennie Gebhart, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

 

“While Facebook is in the spotlight right now for very good reason, this is not just a Facebook problem,” Gebhart said. “We have a surveillance based business model that powers much of the web that cannot continue to coexist with privacy rights.”

 

She calls for independent audits done by a “party who is not accountable to Facebook but accountable to users.”

 

Rotenberg of EPIC said governments around the world shouldn’t leave it to U.S. and European regulators and lawmakers to regulate social media and user privacy.

 

“Coming up with new solutions that provide for the benefits of technology but at the same time address the real risks is a very good undertaking,” he said. “I think you’ll see throughout Asia, South America, the African continent robust debate about Facebook and other social media.”

Facebook Faces Calls to Further Protect User Privacy

Facebook is a company in a hurry.

 

Since the world learned about the latest customer data controversy at Facebook, the social media network has unleashed a swarm of changes. But it’s unclear whether Facebook’s own reckoning will be enough to satisfy regulators and lawmakers.

 

“We’ve reached a tipping point with Facebook and privacy,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest advocacy group. “What’s most interesting at this moment are the number of forces — political, economic and social — that are converging. And I think the practical consequences is that something big will change.”

 

With more than 2 billion customers, Facebook has been in the hot seat in recent weeks over how an outside researcher gave the data of 50 million users to the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.

What if anything Cambridge Analytica has done with the data is unclear — the company claims it deleted it. But the situation has shone a spotlight on how much personal data is available on Facebook and how it is handled.

 

Pulling advertising

 

Sonos, a consumer electronics firm, Pep Boys, an auto parts and service retailer, Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, all stopped advertising on Facebook in response to the controversy.

 

“We would like to see a bit more transparency to the consumer and a bit more choice to the consumer,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

 

Her message to Facebook: “When you start taking this a bit more seriously and you start focusing and making changes, we’ll go back.”

In a Facebook post and an appearance on CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the controversy and vowed to do more to protect user data. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” he said.

The company also placed ads in Britain and the U.S. apologizing for a “breach of trust.”

A bevy of self-imposed changes

 

As state and federal regulators opened investigations and several congressional committees called on Zuckerberg to testify, Facebook has been busy rolling out changes.

 

The company made it easier for users to change privacy settings and has given them a quick way to download all the data that Facebook has on them. It has also cut off major data brokers.

 

Facebook may know soon whether its efforts will be enough.

 

Regulation or self-government?

 

Silicon Valley firms have long held that self-regulation, rather than government-imposed rules and regulations, would best allow for innovation. But the company also faces a bevy of state, federal and international regulators, which all may act against the firm.

 

In the U.S., Facebook’s chief concern is the Federal Trade Commission, which confirmed last month that it had opened an investigation into the company’s practices.

 

A key question will be if Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree it has with the consumer protection agency to obtain users’ permissions for everything it does with users’ data. Each violation is supposed to come with a $40,000 fine, which some analysts have speculated could cost Facebook billions.

 

In addition to the FTC, several state attorneys general have opened up an investigation into Facebook.

 

Beyond regulators, lawmakers in Washington and in state houses around the country are discussing what can be done to better protect social media customers. Zuckerberg is expected to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

 

Meanwhile, the company faces possible investigations in Britain and Canada.

 

Outside scrutiny

 

It is not just Facebook that deserves more scrutiny but all of the “advertising-powered web,” said Gennie Gebhart, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

 

“While Facebook is in the spotlight right now for very good reason, this is not just a Facebook problem,” Gebhart said. “We have a surveillance based business model that powers much of the web that cannot continue to coexist with privacy rights.”

 

She calls for independent audits done by a “party who is not accountable to Facebook but accountable to users.”

 

Rotenberg of EPIC said governments around the world shouldn’t leave it to U.S. and European regulators and lawmakers to regulate social media and user privacy.

 

“Coming up with new solutions that provide for the benefits of technology but at the same time address the real risks is a very good undertaking,” he said. “I think you’ll see throughout Asia, South America, the African continent robust debate about Facebook and other social media.”