Fire and fury for Facebook

Author: | Published: 27 Apr 2018
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The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal has put data protection under an even more intense spotlight, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) due to come into force on 25 May. While social media companies like Facebook have long been suspected of collecting an unnecessary amount of data, recent events have confirmed these suspicions and show just how easy it is in the modern world to lose track of data. The scandal shows action must be taken to ensure that personal data is not collected without a user's permission.

Worse still is how the data was allegedly used. A class action has been launched against Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group and Global Science Research Limited for obtaining users' private information to develop what have been called political propaganda campaigns in the UK and in the US.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie said in his evidence to the UK Parliament's digital, culture, media and sport committee that it was 'completely reasonable' to believe the remain campaign would have won the vote if there had 'been no cheating'. Cambridge Analytica is also believed to have close links with AggregateIQ, which accounted for 40% of Vote Leave's campaign budget. Dominic Cummings, Conservative political advisor and one of the central figures of the Brexit campaign, said on his blog that the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ. He removed the quote last month.

Cambridge Analytica is also said to have worked with the Trump campaign and is currently under investigation as part of Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the election. In view of Mark Zuckerberg's comments that Facebook is in an arms' race with Russia to keep personal data safe and secure, this is one of the most crucial issues to address today.

The EU is making concerted efforts to help. GDPR could of course help but the responsibility mainly lies with social media conglomerates changing their business models to ensure that this never happens again. Google, Facebook and Twitter can no longer treat personal data rights with contempt, with threats only likely to increase as time goes on.

Google stores location data, anything a user has ever searched for, knows the apps they use, has access to photos, webcams and microphones and to every single email ever sent. This kind of practice has to stop – not only on purely moral grounds – but also to ensure that it does not get into the wrong hands. With technology becoming more sophisticated and foreign powers investing more time and money in this area, conglomerates are playing with fire.

GDPR's plans to address issues around data retention are much needed and could go some way to avoiding circumstances of this type. But now is the time to play tough with huge social media firms who have neglected the interests of their users for profit and power. GDPR is a step forwards but more needs to be done to ensure the most extreme misuses of data – like throwing the legitimacy of democracy into doubt – never happens again.