It was recently revealed that 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested in a major data breach. Some of this data was apparently then used to create targeted political Facebook ads for the Brexit campaign.
Andy Wigmore, former director of communications for Leave.EU described services provided by Cambridge Analytica as “our most potent weapon” in the referendum.
If true, these allegations reveal the laid-back environment that the Tory Government has created which has allowed companies to breach our right to privacy.
Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy firm at the heart of these allegations, fervently deny the claims. But to me, more worrying is that it is possible the breach was legal. This raises questions about both privacy on social media and our digital footprint.
How do we think about our social media use?
Most of us see social media as a means to connect with friends and family, keep up with news and as a source of entertainment.
But we also willingly give Facebook information. We provide our name, date of birth, email, and location. We ‘like’ pages, check into locations and write statuses. We use Facebook to log into apps, play games and fill out surveys.
But companies have been taking advantage of our unsuspecting willingness to divulge information.
Using an app/survey called ‘This is Your Digital Life’, 270,000 Facebook user’s information was accessed. Not only their information, but information of their friends was harvested, resulting in data about 50 million Facebook profiles being collected.
Though the process which allowed this to happen has since been banned by Facebook, their response to the serious data breach has been lack lustre. Facebook seem to have known about the issue for years but not acted and now Mark Zuckerberg refuses to testify in Parliament.
The Government’s response to the accusation, too, has been underwhelming. Perhaps this is related to the fact that the Conservative Party themselves were in talks with Cambridge Analytica about using their services for the next general election?
Many may now choose to leave Facebook but this behaviour is not limited to them. Even when we try our best not to, we leave a digital footprint online.
Google stores our locations, Google and YouTube search histories and tracks the apps we use. Data laws need updating. They are 15 years out of date.
The Government’s Data Protection Bill does not address these issues. Labour has tabled a number of amendments to the Data Protection Bill in an attempt to correct this situation, in particular to require the disclosure of who is spending what on online advertising in pursuit of the basic right of voters to be fully informed.
If we allow big companies such as Facebook to continue unregulated, we allow the public’s information to be bought and this information to be used to manipulate important decisions.