The Cambridge Analytica scandal in March sent regulators into a frenzy. That’s because they realised the implications of the pervasiveness of modern tech companies, including the fact they can sway political opinion. This was shown by the role Facebook played in the US presidential elections in 2016, and the Brexit vote in June of the same year. Millions thought they would witness the creation of regulations to stop companies like Facebook and Google from creeping into all aspects of our lives.
Sadly, the US politicians quizzing Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg displayed an embarrassing lack of knowledge of all things internet. Zuckerberg came off worse when speaking to politicians from the European Parliament, however – one, in fact, pointed out Zuckerberg’s failure to answer a simple yes-or-no question that had been asked multiple times.
This was a surprising, but welcome, change in the discourse surrounding Facebook, from a region that’s historically highly valued privacy. Germany has passed new laws punishing companies that fail to deal quickly with online hate speech, and the UK Data Protection Act has provided British citizens with the opportunity to request all of their data from companies, as well as request that it be amended or erased. These regulations stand in stark contrast to US laws. A subsection of the Communications Decency Act, for example, protects public platforms like Facebook from liability for what users say or do on the platform.
However, it’s increasingly evident that we’re looking for a solution in the wrong place. Technology and social media will only become more integral parts of our lives, not less, and it’s happening quicker than ever. Silicon Valley’s top firms have shown that they have both high standards when it comes to data privacy and the wherewithal to enforce these standards. In early 2016, Apple stood up to US police when asked for access to the iPhone data of a gunman. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft filed a joint motion supporting Apple’s stance.
Any kind of blanket ban or one-size-fits-all legislative action against data collection would not be in anyone’s best interests. Instead, the onus is on us, the consumer, to be judicious about the data that we consent to sharing and the services that we use. Facebook gives us the option to not share non-essential data with third-party apps, while other services have also scaled back on the amount of data they request. All of these companies also have stringent in-house controls that prevents any individual employee from perusing the data of users, meaning that no one ever really sees your data.
While the EU can, and should, look into March’s data breach and regulations, the amount and type of data we share is largely up to us. We should increasingly assume more personal responsibility as conscious consumers for what we choose to share.