By Ben Wilson
It was bound to happen. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was bound to reach Australia.
The Turnbull government should have moved to launch an investigation straight away, but in its usual form, failed to do so.
This British company had got hold of a mass of data on individuals from Facebook, without the consent of the of those whose personal information was passed on. This information was then resold to others.
But we in Australia had to wait until Cambridge Analytica admitted in questioning overseas that more than 300,000 Australian Facebook users have also been victims.
Acting Information Commissioners Angelene Falk has now moved to look into it. She said, a “formal investigation” would consider whether Facebook had breached the Privacy Act.” If the company is found to not have taken reasonable steps to keep the information secure and not pass it on without permission of the person concerned, there has been a breach of the act.
But this is not enough.
The company has already admitted that it did the wrong thing. And this is after Facebook revealed that it had handed over data on roughly one of every 80 Australians.
This should provide enough evidence to lay charges and bring the company to court.
Doing this depends on the government.
Punishing Facebook will not in itself put a stop to the practice. A new law to protect online privacy is needed. Unfortunately, government legislation has been going the other way.
Facebook has announced that it is going to conduct an audit of third party apps. This is certainly overdue, but it covers up that Facebook knowingly and deliberately handed over the data for money. It was no accident.
Note that Facebook has not said that it is going to stop collecting personal data and selling it to other companies. The main change is going to be some new words to the agreement that users sign onto when they first set up an account. Some of the words will be devoted to saying what sort of information will be collected and how it will be used.
Facebook users will not be given a real choice as to whether they accept or do not accept their private information being used in this way.
Cambridge Analytica was also closely linked to Donald Trump’s election campaign. This raises the question of whether this or any other similar political consulting company has been involved in the Australian political scene.
It is serious, because in the United states, Cambridge Analytica was able to have an influence on the outcome of the election.
An investigation into whether there are links to the government is warranted. Failure to do this is going to make it look like it has something to hide.
The improper use of personal data for marketing is a growing nuisance. But when it is used for political manipulation, it poses a real threat to our democratic rights. If it not nipped in the bud, it is going to get worse.