State has handed over con­trol of our data to web giants

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT -

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.

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