Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is too close to the digital giants and failing to protect Canadians’ privacy from “data mercenaries” who are undermining democratic elections, warns NDP MP Charlie Angus.
His comments were made in a Gamechanger podcast interview about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica released Thursday.
“We have a government that is completely unwilling to put any protections in for citizens beyond a lot of window dressing.” said Angus. “We need to restore the role and rights of citizens in this digital discourse.”
Brexit, Trump campaigns fueled by Facebook data breach
In 2014, Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan created a Facebook app — “This Is Your Digital Life” — used by 270,000 individuals, who shared their person data with the app.
Because Kogan had told Facebook his app was for research purposes only, Facebook allowed his app to harvest data of all the FaceBook friends of those 270,000 users — over 50 million Facebook accounts.
That data was then passed to Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon’s political marketing company, and used to aid pro-leave groups in the Brexit referendum and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Both Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica and his far-right internet site, Brietbart, were heavily bankrolled by US hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.
“Facebook had known about this breach for two years — they sat on it, did nothing,” said Angus.
Canadian laws and enforcement needed, says Angus
In June, Facebook settled with the US Federal Trade Commission in the Cambridge Analytica case, agreeing to pay a $5 billion fine rather than face trial over violation of US laws.
But that $5 billion government may get paid back to Facebook through the foreign policy and trade actions of US President Donald Trump.
Facebook has projected 2019 sales of $69 billion in 2019 and pays no or little tax in many countries. To protect Facebook’s untaxed status, Trump has vowed to inflict tariffs on French exports to the US in an effort to overturn that country’s new law to make Facebook apply sale tax.
No Canadian enforcement agency has taken any legal action against Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica case, said Angus. The Trudeau government also allows Facebook and other digital giants to go almost completely untaxed.
“We need to have a privacy commissioner with the tools necessary to take on companies of this size” and put “clear legal limits on what Google, Amazon, Facebook can gather on citizens,” said Angus.
Angus has also been pushing for political parties and third-party political groups, like conservative-oriented Canada Proud or liberal-connected North 99, to become subject to data privacy protection laws.
Facebook data aided dark advertising
Cambridge Analytica created psychological profiles based on patterns of likes and shares in the data taken from people’s Facebook accounts.
“What the stolen Facebook data gave them [Cambridge Analytica] was basically the ability to individually profile millions of voters around the world,” said Angus.
For the Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica targeted profiled voters through FaceBooks’ “dark ads that no one else is seeing [and] really ugly racist, extremist rhetoric,” said Angus.
Leave groups ran anti-Turkish Facebook ads about negotiations for Turkey joining the European Union that don’t exist.
Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign argue for his border wall and his focus on the “white working class.”