Social media users treated as 'experimental rats,' By Facebook and Google EU data watchdog says

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Social media users treated as 'experimental rats,' By Facebook and Google EU data watchdog says

  • Facebook needs to make sure its new privacy rules are done in "practice and not only on paper," the European Union's top data watchdog told CNBC.
  • The social network has unveiled a raft of new tools since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.
  • Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), criticized the data collection practices of social media firms.

@ArjunKharpal

CNBC.com

     
     
     
     
     
     
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook

Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook

Facebook needs to make sure the new tools it has introduced to help safeguard user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is done in "practice and not only on paper," the European Union's top data watchdog told CNBC.

The social network has unveiled a raft of new tools since news of the fiasco broke, with the aim of helping users understand and control how their data are used.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg needs to ensure these changes are done in practice.

"I take note of what Zuckerberg has said recently, he said that he takes care of the privacy right. The question is they should do it in practice and not only on paper," Buttarelli told CNBC in a phone interview on Thursday.

Facebook revealed Wednesday that 87 million users were affected by the scandal which saw a quiz app scrape the data from profiles on the social network and pass them over to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Buttarelli criticized social media firms' data collection practices.

"There are days when you have the impression people are treated as battery animals or experimental rats. We are treated as a farm for data. We are in within a walled garden and every single action is monitored," Buttarelli said.

'Far-reaching consequences' 

The EDPS is in charge of making sure that data are being handled correctly within EU institutions like the Commission. But it is also part of a working group made up of the data protection authorities from various member states

Buttarelli said data protection authorities from across the EU will meet next week. Some already have ongoing investigations into the misuse of data, not just relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but other companies too. The U.K.'s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, is looking into data analytics for political purposes and said in a statement on Thursday that it is investigating 30 organizations including Facebook.

"Facebook has been co-operating with us and, while I am pleased with the changes they are making, it is too early to say whether they are sufficient under the law," Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said.

Buttarelli said there are likely to be far-reaching consequences which could include punishments for companies.

"I'm expecting far-reaching consequences on the broader scale. There is a need of a change of culture," he told CNBC.

Last month, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited Zuckerberg to testify in front of lawmakers and give reassurances that EU citizens' data were not used to "manipulate democracy."

 

Antonio Tajani @EP_President

We’ve invited Mark Zuckerberg to the European Parliament. Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy.

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Buttarelli said it would be "wise" for Zuckerberg to honor the invitation from Tajani.

Arjun KharpalTechnology Correspond

Is Silicon Valley Building the Infrastructure for a Police State?

New AI tools could empower the government to violate our civil liberties.

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Silicon Valley firms are building surveillance and profiling tools to help government agents make sense of the massive amount of information available on social media and in publicly accessible data sets. Are they using cutting-edge technologies to keep Americans safe, or laying the groundwork for a police state?

The Palo-Alto based Palantir is one of the biggest so-called threat intelligence firms, and it's primary backer is Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, Facebook board member, and Trump supporter.

Also an outspoken libertarian, Thiel told Fortune magazine he hopes Palantir's technology will help protect the civil liberties of Americans because, given the massive amounts of Americans' data the government takes in, "if we could help [agents] make sense of data, they could end indiscriminate surveillance."

Thiel believes Palantir's technology will prove crucial in stopping future terrorist attacks. Some insiders credit Palantir for enabling the government to find Osama bin Laden's hideout in 2011.

Edward Hasbrouck of the nonprofit Identity Project says this technology enables the government to violate civil liberties without necessary checks on its power. He compares it to the Berlin Wall. "By building checkpoints—by building the control mechanisms," Hasbrouck says, "we're already putting into place the infrastructure for those who will abuse them in the future."

Paul Scharre, a policy analyst who studies artificial intelligence and defense at the Center for a New American Security, says the public shouldn't fear artificial intelligence tools just because they're new and unfamiliar. "There's no technology that's just inherently good or inherently bad," says Scharre. "It's about how we're using it, and to what ends."

Watch the video above to learn more about artificial intelligence, its application in government, and what precautions we might take to preserve our civil liberties going forward.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alexis Garcia, Justin Monticello, and Mark McDaniel.

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