The latest revelations of how Cambridge Analytica has accessed via Facebook the personal data of more than 50 million people are of concern. Even more worrying is how these data were used to change behavior, influence voting intentions, and ultimately influence the way our democracies function.
While we still need to understand what has happened, it is already clear that major malfunctions have occurred. The scariest is that only about 270,000 people gave their consent and downloaded the dubious application, but according to the press, the data of 50 million users were collected without their consent. None of them know that their data has been used to shape the political views of millions of people, and data protection authorities have not been informed about the misuse of these data either.
These revelations again serve as a stark reminder that the modernized data protection rules are urgently needed, which will come into effect in May. Through these rules, companies will need to integrate transparency and accountability into their data processing process for their users.
Resume control of our data
If companies collect data for certain purposes, they will not be able to use it for other purposes unless the user gives consent. Moreover, the Europeans will be masters of their data and their consent can only result from an active step in this direction. In addition, compliance with these new rules will be ensured by the data protection authorities, which will have real powers of sanction.
The ominous birds will say that the new data protection rules will prevent political parties from using data, such as their mailing lists to campaign and inform potential voters. The new rules on data protection will not prevent these campaigns.
The use of data to better inform citizens in the perspective of elections certainly contributes to the smooth functioning of our democracies. However, there is a thin line that must not be crossed: that which separates the choice given to the citizen from the manipulation of voters. Strong data protection rules can help prevent crossing this line, to protect our democracy.
At present, the European General Data Protection Regulation is the world’s best set of data protection rights for consumers. Very often, we find that the digital economy is testing the limits of our data protection. Citizens must rise to the occasion and stop being naive about how their data is used every day. We must all take back control and ownership of our data. The new rules on data protection provide tools for this purpose. It’s up to us to get to work and use them.