How freaky is our relationship with technology? Sometimes it feels like your computer knows you better than your family. Are they eavesdropping on us? Are they stalking us? These are normal questions you could be asking yourself nowadays.
After the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal erupted in 2016 you may be feeling manipulated by your technology and by your government. Before, you may not have thought about your data at all. But now we’re realizing that our data is a commodity that is being sold for economic and political gain.
Scared to turn your laptop on?
Before you go and smash your laptop off a balcony let’s look at how our data rights are changing for the better.
The Low Down on how Cambridge Analytica breached our data rights (with Facebook’s help)
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal: What’s the big deal?
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 the tech giants Facebook, Google and Amazon have been in the hot seat. But before we follow in Elon Musk’s footsteps and delete our Facebook accounts let’s get to the bottom of the scandal by asking a few questions.
What’s Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica used to be a British political marketing firm created in 2014. The company was formed by SCL (Strategic Communications Laboratories), a London-based company. SCL was known for working on military and political campaigns worldwide. It is said that Cambridge Analytica was created to focus on the US campaign.
The company used data predictions and analysis to change peoples behaviour. They’re infamous for being the company that exploits peoples data to corrupt elections, particularly the 2016 US election. Allegedly swaying Americans to vote for Trump by bombarding people with biased media to manipulate how they see the world.
How was Facebook involved?
Facebook specifically has been under public scrutiny in this scandal because they were the source of Cambridge Analytica’s data. CA had apps on Facebook that would secretly pluck data from not only the people who used these apps but their entire social network as well. This data was then used to strategically market to people based on their personality to get them to think in a certain way.
How were other tech giants affected?
Google and Amazon shouldn’t get off scot-free. Even though they weren’t involved in this specific scandal all the tech giants have tonnes of data on everyone. That’s how tech companies operate, they use data to give users a better experience based on their specific personality and needs. But this comes with a dark side.
Recently data has become the most valuable asset in the world, surpassing oil. Making Tech companies the most powerful and rich companies in the world. Google and Amazon, like Facebook, have immense access to our data and there is no knowing how our data is being used.
They all say they have great data security and that we’re in the best of hands but we as a population need to err on the side of caution. Without proper laws preventing our data from being breached we can only rely on ourselves to ensure our data isn’t being misused.
Here’s The Guardian’s 3-minute rundown of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, featuring Whistleblower Christopher Wylie.
The Perspectives of ‘The Great Hack’: Data scandal through a documental eye
The Great Hack is Netflix’s hot documentary of 2019. The Great Hack unveils the Cambridge Analytica scandal through different perspectives.
The main protagonists of the documentary were British journalist Carole Cadwalladr who came to fame for exposing the data scandal and David Carrol who is now known as the college professor who sued CA for not giving him access to his data.
The Antagonists were the powerful tech corporations in the scandal, Facebook, and Cambridge Analytic. Undoubtedly Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix was the Darth Vader of the scandal. Though, not all CA were seen as villains.
The documentary fixated on Britney Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, who spoke up strongly against the wrongdoings of CA. She’s most famously known as the whistleblower. She wasn’t the only whistleblower, former data consultant, Christopher Wylie has also been all over the news exposing CA’s hidden agenda.
The ‘Great Hack’s’ focus isn’t enough to protect our data rights
As a documentary, The Great Hack did its job to move people to actually do something with their data. The documentary exposed how powerful data is and how tech companies are using our data to control our future.
As shown in the documentary, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL worked on over 100 political campaigns in 30 countries worldwide for years. It wasn’t until Cambridge Analytica’s influence in the Leave.eu campaign in the Brexit election and the 2016 Trump election that people started talking.
Both the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the documentary focus is merely political. And on how politically unethical our world is becoming due to the monopolization of data that we may never be able to have a fair election again.
Documentaries are meant to move the masses and shock people about our corrupt reality. ‘The Great Hack’ isn’t any different. The documentary is captivating, thought-provoking and ultimately infuriating to watch. Even though the documentary had many people from different sides of the scandal involved, it seemed to have missed the big picture.
The documentary could have directed more attention to the Tech Giants role in our data rights. Instead, they focused on solely villainizing Cambridge Analytica and giving whistleblower, Brittney Kaiser the spotlight as being the “hero” who had a change of heart. What we need to remember is that just because The Great Hack is a documentary doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own agenda.
Neither Cambridge Analytica or SCL invented the monetization of peoples data. Like CA’s COO, Julian Wheatland stated:
“There was always going to be a Cambridge Analytic. It just sucks for me that it was Cambridge Analytic”.
Monetizing data is the only way tech companies like Facebook and Google have been so profitable. How else could these billion-dollar companies offer free use of their platforms? They rely on advertisements and these ads need user data to be successful. This is defined as Surveillance Capitalism.
Shoshana Zuboff, author of the book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism defines Surveillance Capitalism as the commodification of personal data. As she describes in this talk, “our futures are being sold and bought in a new kind of behaviour marketplace”.
What the Great Hack left out was exactly this phenomenon. Giant Tech companies operation is based on the accumulation of data. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised a company like Cambridge Analytica took advantage of this but rather we should think about changing how big tech companies operate.
For more insights on Surveillance Capitalism and the Great Hack, check out this Vice article.
Now that I left you feeling hopeless, let’s talk about what can be done about data exploitation.
How to protect yourself from data exploitation
Protecting your data isn’t completely out of your hands.
Two simple ways to start is to stop being naive and lazy when it comes to your relationship with technology.
- Naive: Letting technology have your data is undeniable useful and efficient, that’s why Google Maps gets us places instead of our good old fashion sense of direction. However, you can’t assume all apps or companies just use your data to give you a better experience. Remember your data is incredibly valuable.
- Lazy: You know those software updates you keep ignoring? Well, you’re actually setting yourself as a target for hackers.Here are some practical tips to protect your personal data.
Companies are also finding better ways to protect user’s data.
JAYA, as a small software development company, focuses on technology for quality of life. We pride in using data processes in the most empathetic way possible. We know how intimidating artificial intelligence and big tech companies can be. That’s why we dedicate our time to protecting your data and building a more authentic relationship with the ones around us.
Our product Keybe helps use protect our client’s data as well and those who connect with them. We comply with the world’s highest standard in data protection, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We take your data seriously.
UseCrypt is an Israeli-Polish startup that was founded in 2015 to truly encrypt your data. UseCrypt is a messaging app dedicated to giving users complete privacy of their text messages and voice calls. They use a unique strategy that doesn’t actually store data but uses the cloud and stores the messages in an encrypted space so only users can access it.
Since UseCrypt doesn’t sell data like Facebook or Google the only way they can be funded is by its users.
The Future: Data Rights are Human Rights
We’re living in a new era where your data is being used against you. You don’t even know how your data is being used or what data companies are using.
Remember Myspace? Nexopia? Neopets? Ever since you’ve had access to the internet your data is out there.
The good thing is, we’re waking up. The Cambridge Analytica Scandal has shed light on how many tech companies operate.
After the scandal, 2018 has proven to be a big year for data protection. IN May 2018 Europe implemented the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and then in December 2018 the US follow suit with the Data Care Act. These regulations are making tech companies accountable for user’s data. It’s happening already but it’s not enough.
We need to change the way we look at data. The concept of “data capitalism”has corrupted our views of society. Your data rights are a human right and until we change how our data is being treated our rights won’t be protected.