The revelations that data collected by Facebook have been used by companies like Cambridge Analytica have caused outrage and consternation among Facebook users.
The reaction is that Facebook should have protected its users but this was not the basis on which the platform operated.
It left it to individuals to take measures within the site to protect their data from being harvested.
It transpired that most users, including Facebook’s inventor and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, had not taken any such precautions.
Facebook itself is not a major harvester of Facebook data.
This honour goes to Google which harvests consumer information and uses it to frame pop-up advertisements.
Cambridge Analytica used a similar algorithm to harvest political information.
The intrusions have led to calls for more regulation along the lines of that introduced in the European Union which imposes an obligation on platforms like Facebook to protect their users’ data.
The downside of this approach is that it makes the market less competitive because the barriers to entry for start-up tech companies become much higher.
It will also increase the propensity for litigation as big companies like Facebook and Google try and pass on the risk.
Mark Zuckerberg has indicated that Facebook is considering suing Cambridge University because the original algorithm for Cambridge Analytica was developed by one of its academics.
Meanwhile the Australian government is addressing concerns about individual data held by its agencies.
Under the new Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP), information held by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Taxation Office, Human Services, Social Services, Education and Health are now held in a single database.
MADIP is protecting the data of individuals by separating the identifiers from the core data.
In this way it hopes to be able to make data available to commercial interests for use in the development of new technology without revealing anyone’s personal details.
At the moment access to the data is limited to authorised researchers.
Authorised researchers can use confidentialised, de-identified MADIP data to look at patterns and trends in the Australian population and provide insight into the effectiveness of government policies, programmes and services.
MADIP demonstrates how combining existing public data can help target services, such as healthcare, to the people and communities who need them.
In the meantime the experts in semiotics are analysing the apology of Mark Zuckerberg to determine whether he really meant it.
The consensus was, amazingly enough, that he had failed and that he was not genuinely contrite.
However following his appearance before a US Senate committee the share value of Facebook rose and Zuckerberg became tens of millions of dollars richer.
On this basis it’s likely that the spin doctors he employs to orchestrate his appearance before these inquisitions will count his “sorry” as a success.
John McDonnell and Roger Hausmann