October 15, 2020
More needs to be done to clamp down on big tech’s nefarious methods of influencing our politics and culture
Behind Cambridge Analytica lay a bigger threat to our democracy: Facebook | Jennifer Cobbe
The information commissioner (ICO), the UK’s data protection regulator, has concluded its long-running investigation into Cambridge Analytica. As had been expected by many, this found no smoking gun. Despite concerns about its data practices, the short-lived political consultancy ended up functioning as a distraction. But there are still real reasons to be concerned about the impact of tech companies – notably Facebook – on our democracy. We need to confront their surveillance business models, their increasingly central position in digital society, and the power they now hold as a result.
In the 2016 US elections, Cambridge Analytica used commonplace data science techniques to predict voters’ political views and target them with adverts on Facebook. Its involvement in the UK’s EU referendum, the ICO concludes, extended to limited work with Leave.EU analysing Ukip membership data. It did, the ICO found, have shoddy data practices, but there were seemingly no significant breaches of the law. Despite the temptation to see the hidden hand of nefarious actors, there is, so far, little evidence to suggest any Russian connection.
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