How ‘The Great Hack’ Shocked Aussies And Set A New Standard For Ethics In Data

How ‘The Great Hack’ Shocked Aussies And Set A New Standard For Ethics In Data
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When Netflix released The Great Hack documentary earlier this year, many of us were shocked to see the way our personal data can be used. In this opinion piece, WP Engine country manager ANZ Mark Randall explains how brands can navigate this user concern.

In early 2018, the world watched on as Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress following accusations that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest consumer data and use it to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A newly released documentary from Netflix has brought to light many new insights, allegations, and misdeeds from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Great Hack has Australians on high alert with the realisation that this is a global issue, rather than being limited to the U.S.

The Great Hack
Facebook collects consumer data and uses it to build a stream of targeted content, just for you. Facebook uses that data to sell ad space to brands so they can more easily target potential customers. At the time of the U.S. election in 2016, Cambridge Analytica claimed to have over 5,000 personal data points on each American voter. Where did they get this data? A researcher launched an app in 2013 called Thisisyourdigitallife that requested access to the Facebook accounts of 300,000 users. The app exploited a loophole that allowed the researcher to collect data from both users of the app, and all the user’s Facebook friends. 

The organisation used these data points to bombard users with fake news content, that was designed to manipulate voters and sway the polls. The campaign has since been criticised as being inhumane and having a fundamental disregard for democracy and basic human rights. Cambridge Analytica used similar tactics to influence political opinions around Brexit and manipulate voters in developing countries. 

Many readers may find the tactics of Cambridge Analytica shocking. But if you think about it, you could argue that data may well be replacing oil as the world’s most valuable resource. In a digital economy, data and what you extract from that data is similar to oil a century ago. An untapped, massive asset that—depending on how you extract and use it—can have enormous rewards. But how do people really feel about their data? 

A recent report from WP Engine revealed that a substantial amount of Gen Z’ers, some 45 per cent, are more than happy to offer up their data to organisations and businesses in exchange for a more personalised digital experiences.

While it seems that some generations are happy to offer up their information, this doesn’t mean that they’re happy for their data to be used in any way organisations see fit. Another report from WP Engine on AI technology revealed that 93 per cent of consumers want businesses to be transparent about how their data is handled. 

With this trend in mind, how can we as businesses ensure we are acting ethically and responsibly with our data? Here are a few actions your business can take now to ensure you’re keeping your customer’s privacy in mind. 

Open your algorithms. To trust computer decisions, ethical or otherwise, people need to know what you’re doing with their data and how your systems arrive at their conclusions and recommendations.

Don’t be evil. This one should be self-explanatory but it’s important to recite this mantra when building how your AI uses customer data.

Use Only What You Need. If you don’t need a certain set of data, you should leave it up to the customer if they want to share that. For example, if you are asking for a customer’s birthday, do you need the exact day? Or would a month be find. They can turn it off and on as they choose – as long as they feel they’re getting value and a benefit for that information. 

The key is knowing the needs of your target audience. How do they feel about giving up their data? Can we give them more control? Is it going to make them feel part of a group? What are we actually doing with it?” Keeping this viewpoint of human psychology in mind, organizations must seriously consider where the limitations are: what information is collected and what is done with that information to enhance personalisation accurately, without being overly intrusive or creepy.

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