The unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal tells us that there must be an investigation in Australia

Contributed by Joe Montero

Facebook is in trouble and its founder Mark Zuckerberg is in the spotlight over revelations of improper use of data, taken from those who have signed up with the social media platform. Other social media platforms like Twitter and Google, although they are not directly mentioned in this scandal, are also being drawn into the net, because it is understood that they have long been invloved in similar practices.

This affair has been has come to light, with the exposure that information about 50 million users has been passed over to a company called Cambridge Analytica, through an intermediary called Global Science Research (GSR).

It was the action of former whistleblower Chris Wylie, who let public know what is going on that made the difference, turning a wrongdoing into a scandal.  Part of his exposure ere the details of the company’s involvement in political manipulation during the election of Donald Trump and Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.

Zuckerberg has avoided calls for a public explanation and there is a rising tide, demanding proper investigation and regulation. Along side this there is a global campaign against Facebook called #DeleteFacebook, which is targeting its two billion users.

What the company has done in response, is to issue a fedensive statement and engage forensics firm, Stroz Friedberg, to investigate the matter. It has not satisfied critics, who are calling for an open investigation and not one behind closed doors.

Reaction has been so strong that the scandal caused Facebook shares to fall by 6.77 percent on Monday. Zuckerberg, who owns 16 percent of the shares, personally lost about $5.5 billion of his $74.5 billion, according to Forbes’ live tracker. While he certainly won’t be thrown into poverty over this, it has caused damage to his and his company’s credibility, and this could have a lasting effect.

There is a good chance that Zuckerberg will be called to testify before the American House of Representatives or Senate. Similar pressure is mounting in the United Kingdom.

In Australia, Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), confirmed the data collection practices of Facebook and other internet giants will be investigated, but only in relation to competition in the media and advertising markets. Whether practices like those of Cambridge Analytica have been taking place in Australia will not be examined.

The political establishment in Australia does not want to act. A good reason is that the use of private information has become central to targeted political campaigning. Political parties using data for political purposes are exempt from the Privacy Act, and are in no mood to change this.

Consequently, we are kept in the dark about whether there has been a relationship with Cambridge Analytica or any other similar company, and what has occured in the United States and the United Kingdom, has been going on here as well.

This is far from good enough.

Ten years ago, the Australian Law Reform Commission put that the exception given to political parties should be removed. It was ignored and continues to be ignored, even in the face of the warning signs.

We don’t know the extent to which this sort of activity is interfering in Australia, but it is highly likely to be going on. We need to know the extent.

Besides the personal effects of the breach in privacy, the use of personal information for political purposes on a large scale, brings a great deal of power to those who have access to it. This is power to manipulate political processes like never before.

It is contrary to any principle of democracy, as it provides those few who have the resources with a voice and silences the rest of society. And it provides means to silence opposition, target perceived enemies and carry out large scale social manipulation. We already have too much of this, and the practices of the social media companies are contributing to the usurping of democratic rights. This needs to be stopped.

 

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