Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are part of an industrial sector that exploits your data

Long Read
Our vow to fight against companies' exploitation of data

Over the past few days we've all learned details about how Cambridge Analytica was able to amass data on voters through the use of an app that would gather data on approximately 50 million Facebook users, including 30 million psychographic profiles. 

This is three stories in one.

Yes, this is another story of data that has been exploited for political advantage, again. Political parties and governments continue to want access to social media intelligence and continue to develop profiles on us, to shape our behaviour, and manipulate us. And as ever, Governments are not regulating themselves.

Importantly, it is another story about how trust in Facebook has been breached, again. Facebook sees itself as a platform that possesses your data, and is preoccupied with how that data can be processed to the advantage of Facebook and its corporate partners. As ever, their response is too little too late, and will say something about changing your settings.

And third and most fundamental, this is a story about Data Brokers, again. This industry is able to capitalise on their abilities to operate below the radar, to exploit your data without your knowledge and with no restraints. Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and hundreds of other companies make their money of exploiting your data. And it’s not just for money. It’s for influence.   

What's different with this story is the fallout. Offices have been raided by a privacy regulator. Stock prices have taken a hit. The targeters have been targeted. It feels like there's a shift in the winds.

We cannot return to what was. That was unacceptable. This is a dangerous industry sector, amassing our data below the radar, to huge profits, while exploiting people and data:

All the while, social media platforms would enable this vast enterprise, because it is fundamental to their business models.

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are but two of many companies that have data exploitation as their business model. A leader in the field is Equifax. Equifax last year had to admit that a data breach resulted in over 148 million records being stolen due to a lack of security. These millions of people had little idea that Equifax even possessed data on them, or how Equifax came to have this data, let alone how Equifax was using and protecting this data.

This sector is one of PI’s targets. It needs rules. It needs to explain itself to us all. It needs to put us back in control over our data. Or else, it needs to go away.

In the coming months, Privacy International is holding the data broker ecosystem to account for the data they hold on you without your permission. We are forcing governments to come clean on social media intelligence gathering. We are demanding political parties to be transparent on how they use data in elections. We are pushing for stronger legal protections across the world. And we are working with our partners in their countries that have upcoming elections.

We will use the rules that exist and seek new protections to prevent this exploitation of our data. We cannot let these powerful companies and governments continue to determine our future.