Face­book's and Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica's abuses call for stronger reg­u­la­tion

Ahead of the 2019 elec­tions, Nige­ri­ans must be pro­tected against any form of au­to­mated pro­pa­ganda ma­chine that might be used to achieve pre­de­ter­mined po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

Tech­nol­ogy poses a huge threat to elec­toral in­tegrity and in­deed lib­eral democ­racy. This has be­come ap­par­ent in the wake of rev­e­la­tions that mil­lions of Amer­i­can and Bri­tish Face­book pro­files were ob­tained with­out per­mis­sion of the users. It is now com­mon knowl­edge that the data an­a­lyt­ics firm, Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, used the unau­tho­rized data in an elab­o­rate po­lit­i­cal dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign.

An­a­lyt­ica also at­tempted to in­flu­ence the re­sult of the 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Nige­ria. The com­pany was re­port­edly paid £2 mil­lion by a Nige­rian bil­lion­aire to launch a cam­paign against then-op­po­si­tion can­di­date, Muham­madu Buhari. While look­ing for in­for­ma­tion to tar­nish Buhari's rep­u­ta­tion and dam­age him po­lit­i­cally, the firm was pro­vided ac­cess to pri­vate in­for­ma­tion about Buhari by some Is­raeli hack­ers. But An­a­lyt­ica's staff who were in­structed to han­dle the in­for­ma­tion raised moral ob­jec­tions about its source.

In­for­ma­tion war­fare is not a new phe­nom­e­non. Mil­i­taries and com­pa­nies have al­ways tried to gain tac­ti­cal and com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over op­po­nents and com­peti­tors through col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion. But with the on­set of the in­for­ma­tion age, there are con­cerns that wide­spread pro­pa­ganda and ma­nip­u­la­tion, which are at­tributes of in­for­ma­tion war­fare, would de­stroy the fab­ric of so­ci­ety.

The main weapon of in­for­ma­tion war­fare is data. Big data is also the cur­rency of to­day's dig­i­tal econ­omy. Christo­pher Wylie, the 28-year-old Cana­dian whistle­blower in the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica saga, said "data is the elec­tric­ity of our new econ­omy." Com­pa­nies such as An­a­lyt­ica have de­vel­oped al­go­rithms that can an­a­lyse peo­ple's per­sonal data and use that in­for­ma­tion to shift their pub­lic opin­ion.

As a key as­pect of the dig­i­tal econ­omy, data is used by com­pa­nies to track and pre­dict con­sumer be­hav­iour. This helps in de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts and ser­vices and more ef­fec­tively tar­get­ing ad­ver­tise­ment. Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica uses what the com­pany calls "be­havioural mi­cro­tar­get­ing" to iden­tify per­son­al­ity traits and use them to pre­dict and change peo­ple's be­hav­iour.

But as data an­a­lyt­ics be­comes more so­phis­ti­cated – and, in some sit­u­a­tions, it is used to prey on the peo­ple's cog­ni­tive bi­ases – there are con­cerns over in­di­vid­u­als' right to pri­vacy. A ma­jor de­bate in west­ern coun­tries to­day is about in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity and pro­vid­ing a more trans­par­ent sys­tem by which tech com­pa­nies ob­tain and use peo­ple's per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

At the cen­tre of this pri­vacy de­bate is Face­book, first be­cause of its busi­ness model that in­volves ag­gre­gat­ing and sell­ing in­for­ma­tion about its users to ad­ver­tis­ers. The tech gi­ant also gives third-party app de­vel­op­ers ac­cess to its user data.

An­other rea­son Face­book has been in the hot seat is the tech firm's un­prece­dented ac­cess to peo­ple's data. Face­book had 2.2 bil­lion monthly ac­tive users in the fourth quar­ter of 2017. The com­pany has lever­aged this user­base to grow its rev­enue from $7.87 bil­lion in 2013 to $40.7 bil­lion in 2017. Much of its rev­enues are gen­er­ated from ad­ver­tis­ing.

Face­book ini­tially thought it could ab­solve it­self from re­spon­si­bil­ity for the dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign that took place on its plat­form, suc­cess­fully sway­ing sen­ti­ments to­wards Brexit vote and the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in 2016. The com­pany has now is­sued an apol­ogy to its users who were un­wit­tingly ex­ploited. Face­book had also pre­vi­ously balked at the idea of tougher reg­u­la­tory over­sight. But given the in­creas­ing pub­lic con­cern over data pri­vacy, Face­book has an­nounced an over­haul of its pri­vacy set­tings.

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant said it would now al­low peo­ple to see how their data is be­ing col­lected, while also giv­ing users new tools to stop fur­ther data col­lec­tion and delete what has been col­lected at any time. Users can also port their in­for­ma­tion to an­other so­cial me­dia site if they wish to leave Face­book.

The change in Face­book's terms of ser­vice is also in com­pli­ance with new Euro­pean Union reg­u­la­tion on pri­vacy. On May 25th 2018, the EU's Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR) will come into ef­fect, en­abling peo­ple to have more con­trol over their per­sonal data. The GDPR re­quires busi­nesses to pro­tect the per­sonal data and pri­vacy of EU cit­i­zens for trans­ac­tions that oc­cur within the 28 EU mem­ber states.

Ap­proved in April 2016, the reg­u­la­tion un­der­scores in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity as part of con­sumer rights pro­tec­tion. The in­ter­net econ­omy's busi­ness model had hith­erto ob­vi­ated this prin­ci­ple. Un­der the GDPR, com­pa­nies are re­quired to pro­tect an in­di­vid­ual's IP ad­dress or cookie data as they do for name, ad­dress and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. Lack of com­pli­ance with the reg­u­la­tion comes with stiff penal­ties that can take away up to 4% of the global rev­enues of the de­fault­ing com­pany.

But as usual, mar­kets are wary of tough reg­u­la­tions. In less than two weeks af­ter Face­book's cri­sis be­gan on March 16, Face­book's shares dropped 18%, los­ing nearly $80 bil­lion in mar­ket value.

But in­vestors' con­cern over a po­ten­tial drop in user growth and ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue as a re­sult of tougher reg­u­la­tions can­not trump pub­lic con­cern over pri­vacy. By giv­ing in­di­vid­u­als more con­trol over their per­sonal data, the EU says con­sumer trust in the dig­i­tal econ­omy will strengthen. In­deed, it is stronger con­sumer trust, not the op­po­site, that can pro­vide more op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses, in­clud­ing those in the dig­i­tal econ­omy.

A re­cent sur­vey by se­cu­rity ven­dor, RSA Se­cu­rity, shows that 69% of global con­sumers say they would boy­cott any com­pany that ap­pears to dis­re­gard pro­tec­tion of their data. Given the de­mand for strong data se­cu­rity and pri­vacy pro­tec­tion, pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Nige­ria are ad­vised to join their coun­ter­parts in the EU and other coun­tries to de­sign leg­is­la­tion to en­trench in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity in the coun­try. Ahead of the 2019 elec­tions, Nige­ri­ans must be pro­tected against any form of au­to­mated pro­pa­ganda ma­chine that might be used to achieve pre­de­ter­mined po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.