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

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."

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.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waits to begin a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Lawmakers will grill Zuckerberg on issues ranging from the troves of data vacuumed up by app developers and political consultant Cambridge Analytica to Russian operatives' use of the social network to spread misinformation and discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
The witness table is seen before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearance at a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens while testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes a drink while testifying before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes a drink while testifying before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits down following a break to resume testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits down following a break to resume testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) listens as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) listens as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) (L) looks on as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) holds up the privacy agreement of Facebook as its CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responds to a question about his own personal information becoming public as he testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by members of the media as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company?s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (2 L) arrives at a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 9: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for his meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill to testify before the House and Senate this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Mark Zuckerberg and Andrea Besmehn, Mark Zuckerbergs executive assistant at Facebook depart US Senator Bill Nelson's, D-Florida, office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2018. Embattled Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has placed the blame for security lapses at the world's largest social network squarely on himself as he girded Monday for appearances this week before angry lawmakers.In prepared remarks released by a congressional panel, Zuckerberg admitted he was too idealistic and failed to grasp how the platform -- used by two billion people -- could be abused and manipulated. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by JIM WATSON has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Andrea Besmehn (R), Mark Zuckerbergs executive assistant at Facebook] instead of [Priscilla Chan]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (3rd L) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., exits after a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, not pictured, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg, in prepared testimony for the U.S. House of Representatives, said all of Facebook's problems are his mistake. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is meeting with individual senators in advance of tomorrow's scheduled hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committeees. Zuckerberg is under pressure to explain why tens of millions of Facebook user's private information was shared with Cambridge Analytica. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (C) leaves the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after meeting with Feinstein on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is meeting with individual senators in advance of tomorrow's scheduled hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committeees. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (3rd L) leaves after a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 9, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a few Congressional committees this week on the mass users data Facebook has shared with political operatives. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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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.

"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 McNameeRob Kim/Getty

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

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."

Read more: Marc Benioff says Facebook looked like a 'train wreck' even before it was struck down by a series of crippling scandals

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.

"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.

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SEE ALSO: Marc Benioff just doubled down on comparing Facebook to cigarettes, saying people urgently need protecting from the social network

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