State has handed over control of our data to web giants
IN THE darkest days of the banking crisis, the ultimate fear was losing our sovereignty to ruthless foreign bankers and hedge funds. Now, a decade later, another crisis and another hapless Irish government is sleepwalking into another sovereignty crisis with multinational billionaires.
It comes down to this: do Google and Facebook or the democratically elected government of this republic make the crucial decisions on data?
The twin towers of data-processing multinationals – Google and Facebook – are supposed to value data as the natural resource of the host state.
Data is worth more than plutonium (it costs €3,352 per gram), yet Ireland allows Google and Facebook to use its data the same way that a host allows guests to use the bathroom.
Data provides the dividends for the billionaire shareholders of the two largest multinationals – and they assure us our data is a priceless commodity.
But it is painfully obvious – and embarrassing – that Google and Facebook put a greater value on our data than the Irish Government does.
Despite it being a grave threat to our democratic process, those multinationals prodigiously harvest data and sell it to the highest bidder.
But then, it is not Google or Facebook’s responsibility to defend or manage our precious data – protecting the national interest is the duty of the Government.
And from May 25 – the same day as the abortion referendum – this republic will be policing data management and privacy protection for the EU.
THE EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will protect the data of EU citizens, or anyone else whose data is processed within the EU. The US multinationals have always scoffed at and ignored EU and Irish data regulations, but now they face enormous penalties for non-compliance – up to 4% of an offending company’s global revenue, and their turnover is measured in billions.
Last week, Google and Facebook did the Government’s job for it when they banned advertisements for the Eighth Amendment sourced outside Ireland. Google went a step further, banning all adverts relating to the amendment, whether Irish or foreign.
The bans were introduced after fake news about an abortion clinic in Kilkenny appeared to be similar to other lies planted online for political purposes in other jurisdictions. Google and Facebook banned the advertisements here a week after undertaking to initiate a process to confirm the bona fides of election adverts in the US.
But the data-processing behemoths banned the adverts to serve their own interests, not to protect the Irish referendum from foreign manipulation.
Both companies are still in disgrace after they published adverts suspected of influencing the US presidential election, the Brexit referendum in the UK and other elections in Europe and beyond.
Yet our Government has been content to outsource the regulation of online political advertising paid for outside Ireland to to the two big firms. Fake news is the bastard progeny of online advertising and it was much more effective at influencing voters than anyone will admit.
Craven members of Government dragged their heels when Fianna Fáil introduced a Bill to make identifying who paid for a political advertisement a condition of running it online.
THE truth is, the Government is as ignorant about social media and online advertising as it is about rap music. Irish ministers in pinstripe suits are in awe of the young bosses from media companies wearing jeans and open-neck shirts who brought well-paid jobs to young Irish men and women. Our Government usually does whatever it takes to please the bosses of the mightiest foreign data processors – our Taoiseach and ministers never said ‘no’.
We should not forget that Google, Facebook and their ilk have played a leading role in transforming postbanking crisis Ireland into the fastest growing economy in Europe.
We owe them – but we must not present ourselves as a cheap date for every silver-tongued foreigner with a USB stick seeking data.
Google and Facebook have their European headquarters in Ireland and now we have to police the EU’s stringent new GDPR regulations.
Pray we do our regulatory duty for the EU more robustly than the current Government protected the data of Irish citizens.