Privacy Laws – Should Americans Follow The European Model?
Following the Facebook data breach involving the now-defunct, Cambridge Analytica, privacy laws and regulation are trending topics.
In case you missed it, Cambridge Analytica collected the data of 87 million Facebook users for the sake of selling off the info to political campaigners. Thus far, it’s the largest leak in Facebook’s history.
And how campaigners collect data on their users is startling. Take Facebook “likes” for example.
If a person likes Kim Kardashian West’s posts, internet marketers will send you advertisements based on your admiration for her. Some of those adverts could be anything from makeup, shoes, or other products associated with her.
Cambridge Analytica Used Data To Predict A Person’s Personality and Psychology
Researchers figured out a way to reference your Facebook likes to your personality and psychological traits. For example, through what you like on the platform, they can determine how extroverted, shy, conscientious, and open-minded you are.
And when collecting your “likes” and comparing it to other relevant data, researchers can supposedly predict your political views more accurately than people in your family.
And for this reason, the collection and use of your data proved to be incredibly useful for a company like Cambridge Analytica. They collected all of this information to build behavioral models to target voters in political campaigns.
On their website, they wrote as their headline, “We find our voters and move them to action.”
The firm used personality modeling from researchers who worked at Stanford University and the Psychometrics Center at the University of Cambridge.
An example of one of these tests is the Facebook app called, “myPersonality.” The quiz features 100 different questions which asses openness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and introversion.
These are the main traits that psychologists use to analyze a person’s behavior and personality.
And this personal data is incredibly predictive of how one will vote in an upcoming election. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why people are upset.
Europe and The European Union Has Had Enough
In fact, in Europe, they just rolled out a series of new privacy laws and regulations meant to curb the mishandling of private data.
To illustrate why their use of our data is offensive, Tim Wu used a very useful analogy in the New York Times this morning when he gave the example of a therapist.
In his op-ed, Tim asked the readers to imagine visiting a psychologist to reveal a personal, embarrassing, and serious problem.
Because of the therapist’s job, they are incredibly friendly and seem trustworthy. They tell you that, yes, you can absolutely trust them with your information.
You trust them, pour your heart out, only to discover later that your therapist has been recording and selling off all of your personal secrets to advertisers. Or anybody else with a big enough wallet to make money off of you.
In a situation such as this, nearly everyone would be upset, and understandably so, because it’s such a breach of trust and for monetary purposes, no less.
Tech Companies Should Be Held To The Same Standard As Lawyers
And the aforementioned situation is basically what Google, Amazon, Quora, and Facebook do every single day with all of our search queries. They tell us we can trust them with our data, and then they sell it off to the highest bidder.
It seems as though Europeans are far more insulted by this fact than Americans are. Last week, they introduced the General Data Protection Regulation act.
According to Wu, it’s very European. It is “broad, rule-driven,” and regulators are responsible for its implementation. And under the new act, anybody who collects personal information is called a “data controller.”
And people in the United States have asked for the government to heavily adopt some of the same rules and regulations, but Congress and the House of Representatives are a big part of the reason why it hasn’t happened yet.
Even though more and more Americans are upset, especially as they realize just how intrusive and aggressive these companies are, nothing has been done about it yet.
Wu says that a better option for the American government is to hold tech companies accountable as “fiduciaries.” American laws have what’s called, “fiduciary duty,” and entities under that title have a legal responsibility and obligation to be loyal with your information.
It’s similar to lawyers, accountants, and therapists. All of these individuals are fiduciaries. It’s possible to make tech companies fall under the same umbrella.
Perhaps, they should have a responsibility to be faithful to their consumer and careful in the way that they disclose their information.
How Would It Work?
As for how it would work, courts, judges, and lawyers could address each case, case-by-case, in a court of law. However, such a way of dealing with the problem wouldn’t be as fast as the European style, but it would be an American way of doing it.
Context is important when dealing with privacy issues, and a broad regulatory approach to the laws will avoid that and have a monotonous way of dealing with the problems.
It may be the case that we, as a society, may share more information with tech companies than we do with our accountants, doctors, lawyers, and maybe even our family members.
When people use the internet, they provide information about themselves in a myriad of ways. For every piece of data collected by one company, another company collects another piece, and they combine the data like puzzles pieces.
And consumers are often not aware that the applications they download on their smartphones, collect all kinds of data in addition to the search engines they use every day.
For starters, advertisements target you specifically. And the reason for this is that nearly every website online tracks your visits and how you’re spending time online.
A technology called “data trackers,” collect tidbits of data, compile it into a file attached to your unique identifier, which is typically a number, and then sell it off to the advertisers.
The Potential For Abuse Is Huge – Even Toyota is Recognizing That Fact
With the amount of information gathered by tech companies, the threat or potential for abuse is incredibly high.
And even companies such as Toyota are beginning to feel that Uber and Google are entering their segment of the market.
The issue isn’t that Toyota will miss out on profits, it’s a demonstration of the fact that companies such as Google and Uber are getting large enough where they can now enter other fields and potentially dominate them as well.
And if they have access to all of our information, the threat of monopoly is very real.