In light of the urgent conversations happening around data rights, and news of FTC and SEC actions regarding the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal, experts gathered together at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center this week to discuss privacy, political micro-targeting and online radicalization with leading experts in this field.
The event began with a viewing of the provocative new documentary “The Great Hack,” which brings to life the invisible world of personal data and social media through the journeys of several subjects involved with the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal. The film has been hailed as “required viewing for every American citizen” at a seminal moment in a critical conversation around data privacy.
“This film is an important step in bringing to light – and raising awareness about – the grave dangers faced by big data, big tech and disinformation,” said Damian Collins, MP. “I look forward to working with colleagues in the United States and around the world to combat these threats and safeguard elections.”
The discussion that followed the film viewing examined the vulnerabilities and remedies for one of the most complex and pressing issues facing lawmakers, technologists and citizens: what is at stake for society now that data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset?
Panelist Shoshana Zuboff, author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” defined personal data as a collection of recordable, human behavior and explored what it means to have built an entire economic system based on data, and what 21st century solutions to this issue look like.
“Surveillance capitalism starts with claiming human experience as free raw material,” explained Zuboff. “We need to reclaim human experience as an interface where we have decision rights. Not everything should be data. And once we start talking about data ownership, data accessibility, even privacy, we’ve sort of let the ship sail. We need to get back to the beginning.”
Karen Kornbluh, director at the Digital Innovation & Democracy Initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, is a self-proclaimed “internet optimist,” and has been working in this field since the earliest days of the internet. As part of the panel, she discussed what kinds of structural changes are needed to protect democracy in the age of the internet, including new privacy laws that go beyond notice and consent, creating true transparency online and solving systemic problems that battle misinformation and hacking.
“I’ve been suggesting that we need a new agency and to give the FTC more resources,” said Kornbluh. “The main problem is the FTC is focused on you as a consumer, and markets and making them function. This is a problem for democracy, for you as a citizen, and for our overall information ecosystem, which is important it is secure for our democracies. We don’t have an agency focused on that.”
Emerson T. Brooking, fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council and co-author of “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media,” rounded out the panel, where he spoke about what micro-targeting and personal data will look like in the near future.
“The issue of influence campaigns and these psychologically targeted campaigns via social media is not going to go away,” said Brooking. “[Players in this field] are continuing to evolve and develop ever more sophisticated tactics. It’s going to be an endless arms race, and eventually, as they get more and more sophisticated, they will be better equipped to target audiences here in the states.”
Zuboff went on to explain that although surveillance capitalism is the new frontier of capitalism, a regulatory paradigm is possible.
“Who will be the next leaders and framers of the new regulatory paradigm?” asked Zuboff. “The answer comes from democracy. Because surveillance capitalism and its consequences are on a collision course with democracy, it will be warriors for democracy, lawmakers, citizens and specialists who will be the framers of the next regulatory paradigm. Everything has to double down on democracy because it is the only thing that stands between us and the chaos that these artists have so brilliantly depicted in The Great Hack.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who has called on the social media companies to work with Congress and provide feedback on ideas he put forward in a white paper discussing potential policy solutions to challenges surrounding social media, privacy, and data security, introduced the event at the Congressional Auditorium. He framed the conversation by stating:
“Often times without our knowledge, we are giving up on a daily basis literally huge reams of data to companies that can then take, manipulate, use and often times misuse in ways that are unprecedented.”
About the film
Data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. It’s being weaponized to wage cultural and political warfare. People everywhere are in a battle for control of our most intimate personal details. From award-winning filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, THE GREAT HACK uncovers the dark world of data exploitation with astounding access to the personal journeys of key players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal.