This statement was originally published on privacyinternational.org on 20 March 2018.
Over the past few days we've all learned details about how Cambridge Analytica was able to amass data on voters through the use of an app that would gather data on approximately 50 million Facebook users, including 30 million psychographic profiles.
This is three stories in one.
Yes, this is another story of data that has been exploited for political advantage, again. Political parties and governments continue to want access to social media intelligence and continue to develop profiles on us, to shape our behaviour, and manipulate us. And as ever, Governments are not regulating themselves.
Importantly, it is another story about how trust in Facebook has been breached, again. Facebook sees itself as a platform that possesses your data, and is preoccupied with how that data can be processed to the advantage of Facebook and its corporate partners. As ever, their response is too little too late, and will say something about changing your settings.
And third and most fundamental, this is a story about Data Brokers, again. This industry is able to capitalise on their abilities to operate below the radar, to exploit your data without your knowledge and with no restraints. Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and hundreds of other companies make their money of exploiting your data. And it's not just for money. It's for influence.
What's different with this story is the fallout. Offices have been raided by a privacy regulator. Stock prices have taken a hit. The targeters have been targeted. It feels like there's a shift in the winds.
We cannot return to what was. That was unacceptable. This is a dangerous industry sector, amassing our data below the radar, to huge profits, while exploiting people and data:
- Facebook would amass data, categorise us, and increasingly make this data available for use by others. As examples, insurance firms and financial firms are seeking to exploit this data to make risk-based decisions about us.
- Companies like Cambridge Analytica would solicit data from us as a gambit to gain insights into us and our friends then tap deeper into Facebook to get greater insights and more data.
- Political parties across the world would seek to persuade us to their advantage, even resorting to our darkest fears and enticing us towards hatred. Our investigation uncovered the firms helping to spread fear in last year's elections in Kenya, as one example.
- Governments are keen to get this data to better understand and profile people. We pushed back against the US Government's use of social media data and intelligence to assess people at the border, and we are litigating against the UK Government agencies getting access to social media data using vast surveillance powers.
All the while, social media platforms would enable this vast enterprise, because it is fundamental to their business models.
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are but two of many companies that have data exploitation as their business model. A leader in the field is Equifax. Equifax last year had to admit that a data breach resulted in over 148 million records being stolen due to a lack of security. These millions of people had little idea that Equifax even possessed data on them, or how Equifax came to have this data, let alone how Equifax was using and protecting this data.
This sector is one of PI's targets. It needs rules. It needs to explain itself to us all. It needs to put us back in control over our data. Or else, it needs to go away.
In the coming months, Privacy International is holding the data broker ecosystem to account for the data they hold on you without your permission. We are forcing governments to come clean on social media intelligence gathering. We are demanding political parties to be transparent on how they use data in elections. We are pushing for stronger legal protections across the world. And we are working with our partners in their countries that have upcoming elections.
We will use the rules that exist and seek new protections to prevent this exploitation of our data. We cannot let these powerful companies and governments continue to determine our future.