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Data Protection: Also a Human Right

By Lara Proctor

Have you ever talked about an item, place or event, only for it to pop up on your social media feed a few hours later? Have you ever found that advertisements on websites or your social media come perfectly tailored to you and your interests? Your answer is probably yes and if you answered no, then you probably don’t have an internet presence.

The Truth about Data

The truth is, every like, every location, every message and every comment you make becomes a data point about you. On the internet you become a small web of thousands of data points. Things like your favourite foods, movies you’ve seen and people you are friends with can be harmless data points. But data points on your political engagement, voting preferences, mental wellbeing, spending habits and personality are important. It becomes easy to manipulate people when you know so much about them.

This all may seem ludicrous, something out of a sci-fi thriller in which corrupt governments steal data to control the public. While the current situation may not seem that dire, there is potential for growth. According to economists, data has passed oil in becoming the most valuable resource on the planet. Peoples data is worth more today in the global economy than everything else on planet Earth.

Data is essential to running the world. We need to know how many people there are, how much food to grow, how many welfare payments to make and how much people are making and spending. We cannot run countries and economies without it; however, data can easily be used against us.

Using Data for an Agenda - Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica was an analytics company who claimed to have collected around 5000 data points on every American citizen and a similar amount on UK citizens. Cambridge Analytica teamed up with Facebook and after a few short weeks they knew almost everything online about 87 million users. However, having someone's data is harmless unless you actually use it. Cambridge Analytica hadn’t done anything wrong in collecting these data points until this data became classified as a political weapon.

Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential Campaign employed Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used the collected data points on almost every American to influence decision making regarding the 2016 election. The company would target potential swing voters in swing states, slowing manipulating their social media pages in order to create patterns of thinking that could be fear, confusion or discrimination. A very basic pattern Cambridge Analytica would have used would be targeting middle aged people who live in high socio-economic areas and spamming their social media with the threat of ISIS to American livelihoods. A short scroll through that same social media feed would find a Trump video discussing how he may wipe out ISIS and protect the American public. This fear can be manipulated to target particularly vulnerable individuals. Around 10,000 different ads were output by Cambridge Analytica in the months leading up to the election which were based on performance optimisation and intensive research data. If you can imagine this type of manipulation occurring for around 3 months, with specific targeting and voting preferences as the main goal then maybe you can understand what Cambridge Analytica and the Trump Campaign were trying to do.

Cartoon by Ed Hall

Additionally, Cambridge Analytica was unofficially hired for the Brexit Campaign called Leave EU, and it is thought that data profiles were compiled in order to target susceptible people. Cambridge Analytica’s work in Brexit was said to have been non-existent however former employees have stated there was involvement that ultimately influenced voters.

The Current Situation

Data is collected on all of us, whether we like it or not. Currently, users don’t have rights to their data points and the privacy of those data points. Shouldn’t we all deserve to have a say in where these data points go and how they are used for or against us?

In 2017 the ‘Mandatory Metadata Retention Legislation Scheme’ enforced a governmental ‘back door’ to all of our data. Telecommunications companies and services must retain any user information for 2 years. This data can be accessed by “law enforcement and security agencies” at any time without warrants, without relation to serious crime, and without informing the individual whose data is being accessed. While it is acceptable to access data in order to fight crime it is important to note how easy access is for authorities. Additionally, hacking is more common today with 50 million Facebook users being hacked in 2018. If another nation-state or company were to hack governmental systems, data would most likely be breached if successful. Needless to say, selling of data is becoming a growing market. It may only be a matter of time before governments of the world begin selling citizens data to politicians, companies or marketing agencies.

Our Role as Global Citizens

Fundamentally, as both Australians and as global citizens, we deserve access to our data and deserve to have that data protected. Our data can be used to manipulate ourselves and, in turn, manipulate our society. Data protection is technically a human right under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights making it essential that in the future data protection is prioritised.

The main message? Watch your social media feed, don’t be sucked into echo chambers and know your rights as an internet user and as a global citizen.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.


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