Web Summit 2019: ‘Improve digital literacy’ to protect your data, says Brittany Kaiser

Improving digital literacy is key to protecting your online data from being exploited, whistleblower Brittany Kaiser told the Web Summit in Lisbon.

Kaiser, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, shot to prominence with the emergence of Netflix documentary, The Great Hack.

It claimed British firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of Facebook users via a “personality” questionnaire. This data was used to influence Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the campaign of Leave.EU, which was pivotal in swinging the Brexit referendum.

“One of the biggest problems with data targeting is that we do not have digital literacy, a lot of us do not understand the types of technologies that we need to use to protect ourselves,” said Kaiser.

“I’m sorry to tell you but if you had a Facebook profile before April 2015, you can’t get your privacy back, that data has already been bought and sold and traded around the world, and there’s no way out of the millions of databases that it’s probably on.”

Kaiser said she began using data in political communication in 2007 while working for Barack Obama’s campaign. But it was not until she began at Cambridge Analytica that saw another way this data could be used.

“I got a presentation from my colleagues that worked on the Trump campaign and I saw the way data was used to target people,” she said.

“And most people around the world somehow didn’t see a lot of this coming because they didn’t realise their data made the targeted advertising on their newsfeed totally different from the person sitting next to them.”

The European Union introduced last year the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was designed to give citizens more control over their data.

But another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, told the summit on Monday evening that the legislation was a “paper tiger”.

“The problem isn’t data protection, the problem is data collection,” he said. “Regulating the protection of data presumes that the collection of data in the first place was proper, was appropriate, that it doesn’t represent a threat or a danger, that it’s ok to spy on everyone all the time whether they are your customers or your citizens.”

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