Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the UK, has been elevated to new heights at Meta, the tech giant formerly known as Facebook — under a new title of president of global affairs in its senior management team.
This is an upgrade on the VP of global affairs and communications title Clegg was recruited for back in 2018 — with more responsibilities and a direct reporting line to founder Mark Zuckerberg in addition to COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Why is a US tech giant elevating a Brit to such a senior position?
In a statement announcing Clegg’s new crown, Zuckerberg said Clegg would be key to helping Meta chart the choppy waters of a fast changing regulatory landscape (aka those “headwinds” it’s been warning investors are coming for its ad biz) — this of course as it simultaneously seeks to rebrand its data-mining ad empire as a future-building “metaverse company”, while continuing (it hopes) to trample privacy so it can mint money by targeting ads at “relevant” eyeballs.
Thing is, incoming European regulations look poised to directly target Meta’s tracking-based ad business model. Which could slay the cash cow it needs to fund an expensive rebranding of its ads business as really just an even more invasive and immersive surveillance environment (aka “the metaverse”).
Moreover, long-delayed enforcement of existing EU privacy laws now also pose a rising threat to Meta’s empire (see, for example, the recent $267M fine against WhatsApp for breaches of GDPR transparency rules).
Indeed, they now threaten to cut off its lucrative transatlantic data flows. (And, well, if Google Analytics — and, indeed, Google Fonts — breach the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation over personal data exports it’s hard to see how even a very well paid Meta lawyer could successfully defend a claim that Facebook’s data flows don’t.)
In Europe, Meta’s long game of forum shopping and regulatory whack-a-mobile which has enabled the adtech giant to just keep spinning make a mockery of citizens’ privacy rights — successfully dodge data protection regulations for well over a decade — may, finally, be approaching a hard stop.
Unless, that is, Meta can pull out a trump card to flip European lawmakers into ‘alignment’ with its preferred policy positions. (Clegg has been clear about those before.)
And that is the role Zuckerberg is not-so-subtly sketching for president Clegg.
Indeed, the strategy is so very obvious as to almost look like trolling tbh. Which may explain the exceptionally bland choice of language in Zuckerberg’s announcement — anointing Clegg on his mission to stop those regulatory headwinds a-blowing.
“We need a senior leader at the level of myself (for our products) and Sheryl (for our business) who can lead and represent us for all of our policy issues globally,” he writes in a public statement accompanying Clegg’s ascendance. “Nick will now lead our company on all our policy matters, including how we interact with governments as they consider adopting new policies and regulations, as well as how we make the case publicly for our products and our work.”
(For “interact with” read ‘lobby for massive loopholes which will allow us to continue our privacy-hostile ad-targeting business as usual’, in case you needed a deeper take.)
Meta president of global affairs is undoubtedly the most powerful position Clegg has ever held — in politics, government or the private sector; yes, even as deputy UK PM — which simply underlines the vast power Meta/Facebook has come to wield in the global world order, off the back of having 2.5BN+ users whose attention it monetizes by selling access to (to anyone).
Clegg was deputy PM/willing stooge in a coalition government led by David Cameron’s Conservative Party. A highlight of his tenure was when he famously apologized for breaking a Liberal Democrat election pledge to oppose any rise in student tuition fees after he ended up doing exactly that once in coalition government… Oops.
Having a reputation as an opportunist/Tory stooge appears to have done nothing to harm Clegg’s career at Meta/Facebook, of course — where he’s spent several years acting as chief spin doctor for smoothing the sizeable cracks between claimed platform policies and corporate ‘mission’ statements and the actual reality of how MetaFace operates — pumping out a steady flow of societal harms, via its systematic deployment of mass Internet surveillance, population-level profiling and engagement-chasing algorithms — all the way up to literal genocide.
Can anything stop Meta’s manipulation machine?
This is certainly a question lawmakers and regulators across Europe are pondering hard these days. (Indeed, the UK’s current digital minister seems particularly excited by the prospect of locking up Zuckerberg if Meta doesn’t do as she says — vis-a-vis incoming Internet content rules — although it’s highly likely she’d be more than happy to throw Clegg in the clink instead.)
Opting for a European — Clegg may be British but he’s also worked in the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, and been an elected member of the European Parliament, so has deep ties to the bloc’s co-legislating institutions — suggests that if Zuckerberg fears anything could challenge the power of his absolute Meta monarchy (via majority share voting power) it is actual regulation in the public interest actually being enforced.
That too should give governments all around the world pause for thought.
Zuckerberg would prefer lawmakers don’t think too deeply though.
“The work we do at Meta matters to a lot of people around the world,” pens the Facebook founder with studied banality. “We’re at the center of a lot of debates about technology and society. I can’t think of anyone better placed to represent us and help shape the future of internet policy than Nick.”