Privacy International: how to avoid the next Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal

Privacy International: how to avoid the next Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal


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The London-based Privacy International advocacy group is proposing a cluster of legal measures to avoid the next Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal.

While the attention on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica focuses on two of the most controversial political campaigns of the 21st century – the Leave campaign in the UK and the Trump campaign in the US—the bigger picture is that big data is here to stay in politics.

Big data is not only threatening to change politics but end citizenship. The very definition of totalitarianism implies the end of separation between the private and the public, which big data could affect.

Privacy International is a group that calls for citizens’ control over who generates and exploits data. In the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica, the London-based human rights advocacy group is calling for a cluster of measures that would shield the essence of privacy in a digital society.

The end of privacy

One of the key features of the Privacy International proposals is the shift of focus from companies exploiting data – like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica – to data ownership.

On Thursday morning, The Times of London run a story on how ISBA – a British group of advertisers representing 3,000 brands – is threatening to pull out of Facebook, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, in a world of digital oligopoly, it is not clear that this is a credible threat. What’s more, the principle of “free services” in exchange for use of citizens’ data has not been challenged.

On Wednesday evening, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised for mistakes over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the focus was on political manipulation, not the principle that a company can hold a vast monopoly of personal data, in which governments can also share.

Privacy International suggests that there is an urgent need to focus on data ownership, or risk nightmare scenarios, like banks rating a client’s creditworthiness on the basis of their social connections.

Reclaiming privacy

The first proposal by advocacy groups is to turn privacy into a fundamental right.

That is significant because consumers do not have the technological expertise to understand how deeply technological behemoths can penetrate into their privacy.

According to a July 2016 Eurobarometer study, more than seven in ten Europeans (72%) say it is very important that the confidentiality of their e-mails and online instant messaging is guaranteed. However, only 37% of Europeans know that their voice and instant messaging communication can legally be accessed by private interests without their consent.

To make this right effective, individual data should no longer be regarded a commodity. If personal data can be sold, in a world of only a handful of online behemoths, international corporations will be able to “shake” users for their data as a precondition to gaining access to online services.

A role for governments

Although government regulation is often portrayed as the end of freedom, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal suggest that untamed corporations poses as big a challenge.

Privacy International suggests a bigger role for governments, so that privacy violations and political manipulation are effectively protected, rather than accidentally revealed by whistleblowers two years down the line.

 According to Privacy international “the current scandal shows that many unlawful practices take place without being seen and are only revealed when independent researchers conduct lengthy and detailed investigations.

On the one hand, governments can go after those buying citizens’ private data sets, including political parties, thereby limiting big data manipulation of political campaigning. At the very minimum, Privacy International suggests, citizens must know which data analytics companies a political party contracts, how much they pay for its services, and precisely what these services are. In sum, citizens should have the right to know why and how they are politically targeted.

On the other hand, governments must spend money in monitoring a wide range of personal data-mining. Privacy International supports the adoption of draft EU ePrivacy Regulation that will prevent companies tracking individuals online, going beyond statistics to the profiling of individual citizens.

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