Privacy and Data Integrity in the Disinformation Era

Amy Larsen DeCarlo – Principal Analyst, Security and Data Center Services

Summary Bullets:

  • Facebook executives have been on a summer apology tour after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco came to light but new information surfaced that shows the company is still not adequately protecting consumer personal data.
  • Lawmakers aren’t waiting for tech to self-regulate with California’s legislature passing a sweeping consumer privacy bill and federal regulators looking to follow suit.

 

Digital advertising, an $88 billion industry in 2017, is driving notable revenue expansion for some of the top social media platforms.  However, this growth has brought with it some questionable practices in how user information is mined and shared.  Facebook became a focus of intense scrutiny when it came to light that during the 2016 U.S. presidential election U.K.-based political consulting house Cambridge Analytical tapped data from tens of millions of Facebook users to build out voter profiles without express permission.  Facebook executives conducted something of an apology tour, testifying in front of a U.S. Congressional Committee and promising more transparency about how user data is handled and applied.

 

Of course Facebook didn’t pledge to get out of the ad game.  Given advertisers are Facebook’s paying clients and the online ad business is cut-throat, the company is continuing to look for ways to deliver a platform to those customers that targets the right advertisement to the right audience.

 

But not everyone is happy with its methods.  Last week, Facebook pulled its mobile VPN app Onavo Protect from the Apple Store after the latter company questioned whether the app met its privacy standards.  The app reportedly tracks and models user behavior centered on mobile app trends beyond Facebook, providing the social media giant with potentially valuable data for its advertisers.

 

Concerns about misinformation, disinformation, and the misuse of personal data have reached lawmakers who are looking at steps to take.  In June, the California State Senate and Assembly unanimously passed a consumer privacy bill that restricts what information businesses can collect on state residents and institutes penalties for non-compliance.  The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 requires businesses to share what information they collect on Californians and allows those residents to request their data be deleted.  Additionally, the Privacy Act requires businesses to notify residents as to what categories of business their information is being sold and gives Californians the right to request businesses stop selling personal data to third-parties.

 

The Act, which goes into effect in 2020, widely hailed as the most comprehensive one in the country, has many lobbyists for the tech industry scrambling to neutralize the regulatory stipulations that could cut into their profitable digital revenues. It is worth noting that many of these digital businesses, including Facebook, are also headquartered in California.

 

At the same time, incidents like the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica fiasco have brought the issues of data mishandling and consumer privacy to the attention of federal lawmakers.  This summer, Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, released a position paper with 20 proposals on, in his words, “how to balance technology regulation and innovation.”

 

As long as the Internet retains a level of anonymity, properly sourcing information will be challenging and disinformation and misinformation will exist.  And the price for the advertising-based model that allows consumers what seems like free access to the Web and many apps may be personal privacy.  The big question is can regulators be able to institute controls without stifling digital growth?

 

 

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