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Facebook has unfairly become the 'boogeyman on privacy,' says ex-general counsel

Key Points
  • Facebook's first general counsel, Chris Kelly, says it'll be hard to prove an antitrust case against Big Tech companies like Facebook or Google.
  • His comments come as politicians and government organizations are set to meet this week to talk about how tech giants address consumer protection.
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Former Facebook attorney weighs in on antitrust claims

A former Facebook executive told CNBC on Monday the social media giant is being construed as the "boogeyman on privacy" as it tries to implement privacy and security changes.

Chris Kelly, the first general counsel at Facebook, said the digital economy has changed and consumers shouldn't be so worried about calls to break up Big Tech companies, such as Amazon, Alphabet's Google, Facebook and Apple.

Facebook has been working to regain users' trust after last year's Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, which happened on the heels of the disclosure that Russian operatives used Facebook to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

"Because Facebook got to the scale it got, they ended up being the boogeyman on privacy in particular," Kelly, a Facebook shareholder and ex-chief privacy officer, said on "Squawk Box. " "But what we really had was a change from a relatively unrecorded world where you could always manipulate how you wanted to see your life, and now there's a record over time."

Kelly's comments come as politicians and government organizations are increasingly looking into possibly breaking up tech giants and dismantling what some have deemed to be a monopoly of data.

State attorneys general are reportedly gearing up to launch investigations into tech companies, which would be similar to the probes reportedly underway or being considered at the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and in Congress. Later this week, state attorneys general will meet with FTC officials in Omaha, Nebraska, to talk about consumer protection issues and competition matters.

In a later CNBC interview, President Donald Trump, who has claimed that tech companies are bias against conservatives and his administration, said the U.S. could benefit from some of the cash windfall European regulators are getting from lawsuits with major technology companies.

Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have come under pressure from both sides of the political aisle heading into the 2020 presidential election.

However, Kelly is unsure whether these types of data privacy and competition concerns constitute an antitrust case, adding there needs to be a clear association between the harm being done and the remedy being pursued.

"Defining this from a true monopoly perspective is one of the most difficult things," he argued. "What are the harms that you're trying to address?" He added there could be "massive problems and unintended consequences from the wrong type of breakup."

Kelly has been against breaking up tech networks in the past, telling "Squawk Box" last month that it's "not clear that Facebook has a monopoly in any relevant market."

"While it leads social networking, it's not overhauling marketing, telecommunications, messaging or online advertising, which are all defined antitrust markets," he added at the time.

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