Personal data and big data analytics are hot topics nowadays. The benefits, both for individuals and companies, can be enormous (can you imagine a life without internet or google?) However, the accumulation and use of millions of individuals’ personal data can also put a small number of people in a very powerful position.
Most of the time that’s ok, but the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal (in which the personal data of Facebook users was collected and used in an attempt to influence voter opinions on behalf of politicians who hired them), made it clear to everybody that data can also become a very powerful tool on a collective scale. The scandal showed us that we can be influenced greatly without knowing it through devious tactics, which can influence political choices and could potentially derail an entire democracy.
Within the context of this scandal, The European Parliament and the Committee on Civil Liberties will be organising a hearing on Monday 25th of June. Impact Hub member Paul Olivier, founder of PersonalData.IO will be testifying as an expert.
Paul, what exactly is so important concerning this scandal?
This recent scandal showed us for the very first time the collective dimension of personal data. Tiny bits of info became a powerful tool and were used to control and manipulate information flows, to target a whole population and to influence the public discussion. Suddenly everybody is concerned, even people who don’t use social media. For a long time, people in charge of big companies or other organisations, were not aware enough of the potential consequences of this development or did not make it a priority.
Which lessons can be learned from the Cambridge Analytica scandal?
The practice right now is that big companies such as google are able to collect data and decide on why, what and when they will collect it. We as individuals, have to trust these big players and hope they will keep our data safe and will not abuse of it. In my opinion, it’s important to develop an effective accountability system with clear tasks and responsibilities, a system where an individual can go to hold the company responsible or to seek advice.
What is your personal role as an expert in this field for the future?
I hope that the non-profit organization I created can drive the movement for greater data protection a bit faster. The legislation is already there, we just need to increase awareness around the topic. Our mission is to inform people about their individual rights in the data protection space but also show them ways to exercise their rights.
The same applies for the collective dimension of those rights. Next to that we would like to guide and advise organizations who are struggling with the same data protection topics.
What role did the Impact Hub play for you when it came to building your project?
Early on in the project when I had this crazy idea which I didn’t even dare to talk to about others, the Hub provided an environment where I felt free to discuss my ideas with others. I also received a lot of support from other entrepreneurs with similar initiatives. For me that was crucial, to be able to expose my ideas, to enrich them, to let other people criticize them and to do this in a trusted environment.
When my project became more than just an idea, I needed connections, extra skills and a financial and legal structure, all provided by the Hub. The Hub helps you to grow as you are always surrounded by the right people to help move your project forward.
Any final comments for the audience?
I will share my thoughts about the outcomes and the lessons learned for this huge data topic during the hearing on the 25th of June. For the audience of entrepreneurs or people who are trying to find new solutions in the data protection field, I would say that it could be interesting to follow the particular discussion in the right to portability, to get data from existing sources. There are other ways to proceed in the data analytics field as long as data is protected and used responsibly!