In a week where propriety of behaviour on the cricket field has been front and centre in Australian news, and where the behaviour of world leaders from Russia, the US and North Korea has been either applauded or brought into question (depending on your perspective), it’s curious that coverage of the Cambridge Analytica affair with Facebook has been so relatively uninformed.
Oh we’ve heard all about the breaches of user accounts, and we’ve seen examples of just how much data is kept by Facebook
, but there has been so little examination of the environment in which that data was collected.
And it’s *how* Cambridge Analytica (CA) got access to Facebook user data that is so extraordinary. They did it by entering into an agreement with a third party researcher
, who provided CA with Facebook data, in breach of their own agreement with Facebook. CA then used that data in political activism on social media to influence voting.
Now using media to influence voting is hardly new. Political advertising has been the vehicle of choice for decades to influence electorates. And how political research groups gather data on voters has always been a little disturbing. From Census records and surveys that model likely voting habits by household value and number of residents, political campaigners have developed capacity to send highly targeted messages to voters through your post box and telephone.
Both the problem and the benefit of analytics is that it’s getting more sophisticated and more accurate over time. But the fault is not the data. It’s the regulatory arrangements in place to protect data, and the consequences for misappropriation of data that are at fault.
Analytics are essential in an information-driven society. But so is democracy. So it’s time to start measuring propriety of business practice in data protection and data use. And companies that lend their data to others must take all reasonable steps to ensure that data is used *only* for an agreed purpose.
Because in an age of analytics, if we can gather it, we need to be tracking it.