Tech com­pa­nies colonis­ing so­ci­ety, says Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica whistle­blower

EU look­ing at in­tro­duc­ing heavy fines for po­lit­i­cal par­ties who mis­use voter data

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS NEWS - Char­lie Tay­lor in Lis­bon

Tech com­pa­nies are colonis­ing so­ci­ety and Face­book in par­tic­u­lar is our gen­er­a­tion’s East In­dia Com­pany, one of the world’s best known whistle­blow­ers has said.

“We are cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which we will lose agency be­cause of what we are de­volv­ing to these com­pa­nies,” warned Christo­pher Wylie, formerly direc­tor of re­search at Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica.

Speak­ing on the first full day of this year’s Web Sum­mit in Lis­bon, Mr Wylie, who re­vealed to the world his for­mer em­ployer’s mis­use of Face­book data in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, said that de­spite the scan­dal, no one had yet been prop­erly held to ac­count.

Speak­ing six months af­ter re­veal­ing de­tails of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica tac­tics, Mr Wylie said he was shocked at how lit­tle knowl­edge reg­u­la­tors had around tech­nol­ogy.

“My jour­ney as a whistle­blower has also been a jour­ney in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in­sti­tu­tional fail­ure,” he said.

Claim­ing that he had been forced to “mansplain” tech­nol­ogy to law en­force­ment agen­cies, he said the high lev­els of ig­no­rance he’d seen was no laugh­ing mat­ter.

“It’s not funny that our po­lice of­fi­cers don’t know how to use tech­nol­ogy to stop data crime. It’s not funny that our politi­cians don’t know how to use the in­ter­net,” said Mr Wylie.

Reg­u­late

He went on to ques­tion why there aren’t ef­fec­tive rules in place for deal­ing with tech gi­ants. “If we can reg­u­late nu­clear power, why can’t we reg­u­late some f***ing code?” he asked.

While ex­press­ing sur­prise at the lack of proper sanc­tions against Face­book in the wake of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, Mr Wylie said he had no re­grets about his role as a whistle­blower. “Was it worth it? Yes, be­cause there is now a con­ver­sa­tion hap­pen­ing about it,” he said.

Also speak­ing at Web Sum­mit, Vera Jurova, the Euro­pean com­mis­sioner for jus­tice, con­sumers and gen­der equal­ity, re­vealed that it was is look­ing at in­tro­duc­ing heavy fines for po­lit­i­cal par­ties who mis­use vot­ers’ data as it looks to “end the on­line an­ar­chy around elec­tions”.

She said par­ties could face sanc­tions of up to 5 per cent of their an­nual bud­gets for breach­ing data pro­tec­tion rules in the run-up to the Euro­pean elec­tions.

The move comes as new re­search car­ried out for the com­mis­sion shows that more than two-thirds of all Eu­ro­peans are con­cerned that their per­sonal data could be used to craft po­lit­i­cal mes­sages.

The yet-to-be-re­leased study also shows that 81 per cent are in favour of so­cial net­works be­ing fully trans­par­ent about what po­lit­i­cal con­tent is be­ing put on­line and who is pay­ing for it.

Bi­nary choice

“The ques­tion is not whether tech is good or bad for our democ­racy.

“We do not have a bi­nary choice in front of us be­cause the an­swer is that it is both at the same time,” said Ms Jurova.

Close to 70,000 peo­ple are in

It’s not funny that our po­lice of­fi­cers don’t know how to use tech­nol­ogy to stop data crime

the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal this week for Web Sum­mit, the third time it is be­ing held in Lis­bon.

To­day, speak­ers will in­clude Euro­pean com­mis­sioner Mar­grethe Vestager, for­mer British prime min­is­ter Tony Blair, Tin­der founder Sean Rad, and Mi­crosoft pres­i­dent Brad Smith.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IM­AGES

Cana­dian whistle­blower Christo­pher Wylie on the cen­tre stage of the an­nual Web Sum­mit tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence in Lis­bon, yes­ter­day.

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