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  • Human Rights Research Center

Data Privacy and its Impact on Democracy

Audio Report by Nicole Mendez

June 18, 2024

Listen to the audio report on our website here.

Data Privacy and its Impact on Democracy (Nicole Mendez)
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Audio Transcription: Data Privacy and its Impact on Democracy

[00:00:00] We live in a society where data and information are known to be a huge asset to enhance our day-to-day lives. The digital revolution has evolved in ways that can seem incomprehensible to the eyes of an individual who is not so familiar with technology and the tech industry overall. However, it is concerning how this leaves one's mind as to how advanced technology will become.

One of the things that is being brought to our attention is exactly how consumer attention and spending has now become an involuntary act taken from the consumer's behalf. In its simplest form, this is due to the configuration of opaque algorithmic manipulation, advanced machine learning, and behavioral advertising that has led [00:01:00] to the ethical and moral issues of data privacy and ultimately the erosion of data privacy.

Personal activity has now been commodified to big data corporations without any apparent restrictions, without them being held accountable. So much so that there is a raise in awareness of the ethical and moral issues the tech industry holds to society. So, this poses a few questions, such as–How far does the government's responsibility go in this instance? What is the efficient amount of data there is to be shared for societies to develop? And what might the future hold for individual data privacy rights?

My name is Nicole Mendez. I'm a Research Analyst for the Human Rights [00:02:00] Research Center. And in this audio report, I will be discussing the importance of the intersection of technology and the impact it has on humanity.

This topic is a relatively broad one, and I'm aware of the nuances of the technology world and the tech industry. And as a result, I will be discussing the niche area within the realm of data rights and data privacy.

So let's start off with the economics of companies using our data. In your 101 course of any econ course, there is a concept that you are taught for sure, and it is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

This concept applies to many aspects in our lives, whether it is the opportunity cost of attending an event or doing homework or going to work. In [00:03:00] this case, this is applied to the apps, the free apps that we use on a daily basis. They have an intrinsic cost and it is our attention.

Data collecting methods underwent a radical change when the Internet emerged, and it was bringing in a new level of tracking our behaviors. Online sales of commodities were the primary emphasis of online shopping, with the aim of capitalizing the expected rise in internet users and overall users of any platforms.

One of the most essential things we need to know, however, is how these companies decide to use consumer information. [00:04:00] Market power for these large firms stems from the data market. It is the market that sells these vast data points and information in exchange for monetary gain and incentive. In essence, our data points are being bought and sold between companies every single day.

This goes to show how in reality, none of our data points is private. Factors such as credit history, home security systems, smart home devices, and much more are assembled to personal information databases that eventually examine behavior and thus enhance their prediction of our next desired purchase. So now a new economy arises to the market and it's our privacy.[00:05:00] 

Mathematical models on firms’ behavior with consumer information track profitable sources relative to their competitors. And this strategy uses consumer information as their own competitive advantage. So how are governments intervening in this? Where is their stance as they are aware of these issues?

So how are governments intervening in this? What is their stance on the moral and ethical issues between privacy and data rights? What is the FTC? The Federal Trade Commission is a bipartisan governmental agency that works to protect the rights of American consumers–defending the public through advocacy, research, [00:06:00] education, and law enforcement against unfair commercial practices and competitive tactics from corporations.

The FTC is taking measures to eradicate violations of privacy. And in light of enforcing privacy laws, the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to pursue legal action to ensure that corporations who guarantee the security of consumer information actually follow through on their commitments. The Federal Trade Commission has initiated legal proceedings against entities that have infringed upon the privacy rights of consumers, that have deceived them by neglecting to ensure the security of confidential consumer data or resulted in significant harm to these consumers.

Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits these unfair and deceptive acts and [00:07:00] practices that are affecting trade and selling and have been alleged by the FTC against defendants in numerous cases. The agency enforces other federal laws pertaining to the security and privacy of consumers in addition to the Federal Trade Commission’s Act.

But how far does privacy and trade go with other foreign government affairs? The pipeline of the Safe Harbor Framework to the Privacy Shield Framework.

What was the Safe Harbor Framework? It was an agreement known to take place between the EU and the U.S. beginning in 2000. It has been demonstrated to be an essential in preserving privacy on both parties and fostering economic expansion for the EU and the U.S. However, it is now known as the Privacy Shield Framework and had to take place [00:08:00] of the Safe Harbor Framework since the former one was deemed inadequate in adhering to the EU's privacy standards.

The European Commission's ruling from July 26, 2000 regarding the legal sufficiency of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework was declared illegal.

Thus, the Safe Harbor Program has been replaced by the new framework, which gives businesses a legal way to move personal data from the EU to the U.S. The Privacy Shield Framework will be upheld by the Federal Trade Commission, and it is still anticipated that businesses will fulfill their ongoing responsibilities with regard to data that was previously transferred under the Safe Harbor Framework.

Now onto the awareness of human rights in a sociological aspect of our data privacy. User data is mined [00:09:00] and sold to highest bidding advertisers while disregarding the ethical and moral harms this may cause. They have new forms of social control, manipulation, and exploitation. How so? Big data companies have access to users’ habits, preferences, and desires. Thus, it essentially consolidates these data points and creates personal online data profiles.

These profiles are what the data companies try to align with relevant ads based on location, search history, social media connections, and of course our own interests. And this is better known as recommendation algorithms. The Cambridge Analytica 2016 elections case and the Brexit vote was a pivotal moment in the data world, due to the large data analytics company and how they've acquired up to [00:10:00] 5,000 data points from Facebook users to use as leverage for political campaigning.

Another concern this brings is considered the feedback loop mechanism that perpetuates the circulation of conspiracy theories, fake news, and extremist contents. And the feedback loop mechanism uses those recommendation algorithms that I've discussed earlier to provide content that are usually in favor to the user's preferences and reinforces confirmation biases, and as a result, this enables the existence of other social issues.

Lastly, how could we move forward as a society and voice out these concerns of personal data information?

The potential of social inequality and the priority of working [00:11:00] towards a future that prioritizes individual rights and social justice are what's needed in the moment. The commodification of user data by these corporations have lost what we see as public and what we see as private. It essentially leaves the idea that personal information is now the product of the market and is allowed to be traded and manipulated for a financial incentive.

Legal discussions have been sparked by the complicated ethical issues surrounding data rights. There are arguments in favor of these big data advantages and businesses’ rights to gather this data, but there are also reservations regarding privacy, individuality, and possibility of societal inequality.

As technology develops, it is critical to carefully weigh the moral ramifications of what this could lead to in modern socioeconomic systems, and it is essential for us to strive for a reform that applies social justice and [00:12:00] individual rights instead of monetary gains.





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