Liberty Vittert: Collecting your data is the biggest, baddest, business around. Where's our government?

Your rights are being violated and you don’t even know it.

Your data is being used by governments, corporations, charities and others to manipulate, convince, sway and sell you in every way imaginable. If we keep blaming peripheral actors like Cambridge Analytica, the creators of FaceApp, or even Facebook itself, for data violations, we will never get to the root of the problem.

The newest, biggest, baddest and most influential industry today is data, and it’s time for our government to start regulating it.

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Last week, Google was fined $170 million for violating children’s privacy on YouTube. They were accused of illegally collecting data from children who watch child-related videos and selling it to companies for targeted advertisements. While $170 million might sound like a lot of money, it amounts to only two days of Google’s post-tax earnings. Come on.

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Similarly, last month Apple had to apologize when it was reported that contractors were listening to users’ private voice conversations recorded by Siri. But this wasn’t an accident; it was done purposefully and intentionally in order to "improve Siri." What else are they doing that we don’t know about?

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The most infamous example of personal data exploitation is the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a data scientist developed an app that gave users on Facebook a personality quiz, and then sold those users’ information and their friends’ information to Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm. The idea was to then profile and advertise to these users as potential voters based upon psychological similarities. Under Facebook’s guidelines, thousands of apps were doing precisely the same thing at the time.

Cambridge Analytica was in the headlines because it was so unimaginably inept and incompetent, and because it allegedly had ties to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. But in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign also profiled prospective voters using information obtained through social media, just as Cambridge Analytica attempted to do. And many entities, such as 0ptimus and Trump’s 2020 campaign, are still doing it. The difference is, they’re doing it effectively.

While these irrelevant entities continue to be blamed for data violations, the real culprit – government inaction – goes unnoticed. The government knows that Facebook and many other companies have questionable data practices, but it continues to drag its heels on data regulation.

And let’s be clear. Your data isn’t just your Facebook profile. It isn’t just your name, address and phone number, or even your bank account information. It’s your face, your fingerprint, your internet browsing history, your social media profiles, your medical records. It’s everything that makes you, you.

Right now in the United Kingdom, police officials are testing facial recognition apps for officers’ smartphones that would allow an officer to check a scan of a person’s face against a police database. To get someone’s DNA or fingerprints, you have to be arrested. Not so with facial technology – you simply have to be in public. The practice is being considered in America. Do we really want this sort of Big Brother state?

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Most data threats aren’t this obvious. I recently saw an ad for palm reading on Instagram. It instructed me to take a close-up picture of my entire hand (including my fingers) so that I could get a detailed, intricate palm reading…for free! But there’s no such thing as a free palm reading. I’m actually giving up my Instagram username and my fingerprints. The terms and conditions of this app stated that it could keep and use them in perpetuity.

There are countless other examples of your personal data being used for worrisome purposes, but here’s the crux of the matter: An unimaginable number of laws and rules have been put in place to protect your rights as a citizen of the United States. But when it comes to protecting your data, there are virtually none.

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