Brittany Kaiser

Self-proclaimed Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser in interviewed via Skype by Marcus Carmo, Mastercard’s director of communications (on stage) at Mastercard’s LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) Innovation Forum titled “The Age of Acceleration” held at the Fontainebleu hotel in Miami, Florida, USA, last December. —Photo courtesy Mastercard

Educate yourself and know your data rights.

This was the advice given by self-proclaimed Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser to more than 1,000 delegates attending Mastercard’s LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) Innovation Forum titled “The Age of Acceleration” held at the Fontainebleu hotel in Miami, Florida, USA, last December.

The former business development director for Cambridge Analytica was scheduled to be physically present to address the forum on “The Great Privacy Awakening” but instead was interviewed via Skype by Marcus Carmo, Mastercard’s director of communications.

Questioned by Carmo about responsible data management, Kaiser said data had become the most valuable asset on earth, and people, as producers of the asset, have rights.

Kaiser said she joined data science companies in learning how to get insights from big data that could help stop terrorism, improve healthcare, register people to vote for the first time “and while I did learn all of that which is very inspiring, I also saw a bit more than you bargained for....what I learned is that there is a lack of transparency in the data industry, how our data is bought and sold and treated around the world without our knowledge or our exquisite consent. For in some cases, decades, companies have compiled so much data about us that they can predict very accurately our behaviour”.

Building trust

Kaiser expressed concern about the kind of business model where companies collect as much information on individuals as possible by tricking them into it, saying there needs to be re-enactment. “A little bit of transparency and honesty with your consumers could go a long way into building trust. We really need to flip the traditional thinking that coerces consumers that giving away their data is the right ethical choice,” she said.

Asked by Carmo what should consumer be aware of and what should they have done differently, Kaiser responded that consumers need to be aware of not just how much data they are producing but what they are getting into and what it could possibly be used for.

Kaiser then asked the packed room of attendees to raise their hands to show how many of them had read the terms and conditions of the last app they downloaded. A paltry not more than five hands were raised,

“Exactly!” she exclaimed, admitting that she spent nearly a decade in law school “and I still don’t read them all the time”.

It is important, she advised, for consumers to be aware of what they are agreeing to and read the terms and conditions. She said consumers have to decide if they want to sell their privacy for some convenience which might be worth it sometimes “but right now, I think in the future we won’t have to make the concessions.…”

Companies can hide their intentions from consumers behind legalese, she said, and advised that on every website one goes to “there’s a form of spyware that is going to follow you with everything you read, everything you click on …so if you don’t want that, you need to inform yourself”.

Asked by Carmo what could be done to improve responsible data management, Kaiser said there wasn’t one solution.. She said laws needed to be improved as well as regulations, alongside education and awareness as well as investing in ethical technology. “Law, education and technology at the same time,” she stressed.

“Regulation alone cannot be implemented without an informed public that knows how to exercise their rights,” she added.

Upside to data sharing

Stressing that digital literacy was important, Kaiser pointed to Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ), the new global standard under which “we’re teaching people about how to protect themselves online”.

Under DQ, people are being taught how to understand management of their data, basic cyber security protocols, how to be ethical on social media, how to spot disinformation and more.

The way to implement all this is to give consumers the tools to easily demand their rights to manage their data and to make transparency agreements on what it is being used for and hopefully be compensated for it, Kaiser said.

Is there was an upside in sharing data?

To this question from Carmo, Kaiser responded “Absolutely!” She added that privacy is a bit of a scaremongering word which makes it sound as though if you share any of your data it will be misused but in reality the world will be a better place and solve a lot of the biggest problems if everyone can share their data.

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