Oct 15th 2017

Why we need new regulations to protect us from Facebook and Equifax

The theft of an estimated 143 million Americans’ personal details in a data breach of consumer-credit reporting agency Equifax and the Russian hack of the U.S. elections through Facebook had one thing in common: they were facilitated by the absence of legal protection for personal data. Though the U.S. Constitution provides Americans with privacy rights and freedoms, it doesn’t protect them from modern-day scavengers who obtain information about them and use it against them. Our privacy laws were designed during the days of the telegraph and are badly in need of modernization. Much damage has already been done to our finances, privacy, and democracy—but worse lies ahead.

Credit bureaus have long been gathering information about our earnings, spending habits, and loan-repayment histories in order to determine our credit-worthiness. Tech companies have taken this one step further, monitoring our web-surfing habits, emails, and phone calls. Via social media, we have volunteered information on our friends and our likes and dislikes, and shared family photographs. Our smartphones know everywhere we go and can keep track of our health and emotions. Smart TVs, internet-enabled toys, and voice-controlled bots are monitoring what we do in our homes—and often are recording it.

In the land-grab for data, there were no clear regulations about who owned what, so tech companies staked claims to everything. Facebook required its users to grant it “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content” they posted to the site. It effectively required them to give it the right to use their family photos and videos for marketing purposes and to resell them to anybody. American laws are so inadequate that such companies are not even required to tell consumers what information they are gathering and how they will use it.

Unlike manufacturers liable for the safety of their products, tech companies gathering our data have practically no liability for compromising it; they can protect it as they choose and sell it to whomever they want to—regardless of how the third party will use it. No wonder Equifax had such lax security or that Russians and hate groups were able to target the susceptible with misinformation on Facebook.

The problem of data brokers’ not being required to provide industrial-strength security can possibly be fixed by the FTC. University of California at Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson says that it has “statutory authority to regulate unfair and deceptive practices, it can act on that authority by initiating claims against those who fail to maintain adequate security.” She notes that the FTC has used these powers before, by nudging firms to have privacy and security policies. And when firms failed to comply with their own policies, the FTC treated that as an unfair and deceptive practice.

This would level the playing field by making data brokers as responsible for their actions as most product manufacturers are for theirs. We hold our car manufacturers responsible for the safety of their products; why shouldn’t the tech companies bear similar responsibility?

New legislation could be enacted too. But Samuelson says that the data holders would fight it even harder. And, though it will be a good step forward, it will only solve yesterday’s problems.

Its falling costs will soon make DNA sequencing as common blood tests, and the tech companies that today ask us to upload our photos will tomorrow ask us to upload our genomic information. Technology will be able also to understand our mental state and emotions. These data will encompass everything that differentiates us as human beings, including our genetics and psychology. Whilst credit reports could result in withholding of loans, corporate use of our genetic data could affect our jobs and livelihoods. We could be singled out for having genetic predispositions to crime or disease and find ourselves discriminated against in new ways.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits the use of genetic information in health insurance and employment. But it provides no protection from discrimination in such matters as long-term care, disability, housing, and life insurance, and it places few limits on commercial use. There are no laws to stop companies from using aggregated genomic data in the same way that lending companies and employers use social-media data, or to prevent marketers from targeting ads at people with genetic defects.

Some states have begun passing laws to say that your DNA data is your property; but we need federal laws that stipulate that we own all of our own data, even if it takes an amendment to the Constitution. The right to decide what information we want to share and the right to know how it is being used are fundamental human rights in this era of advancing technologies.

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has argued that privacy should be protected via property rights rather than via liability rules—which don’t prevent somebody from taking your data without your consent, with payment later. A property regime would keep data control with the person holding the property right. “When you have a property right, before someone takes your property they must negotiate with you about how much it is worth”, argues Lessig. Imagine a website that allowed you to manage all of your data, including those generated by the devices in your house, and to charge interested companies license fees for its use. That is what would become possible.

Daniel J. Solove, Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, has reservations about protecting privacy as a form of property right, because the “market approach has difficulty assigning the proper value to personal information”. He worries that although to an individual giving out bits of information in different contexts, each transfer may appear innocuous, the information could be aggregated and become invasive when combined with other information. “It is the totality of information about a person and how it is used that poses the greatest threat to privacy”, he says.

It isn’t going to be easy to develop the new systems for maintaining control of personal information, but it is imperative that we start discussing solutions. As Thomas Jefferson said in 1816: “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

Link to different version on Washington Post’s website

The post Why we need new regulations to protect us from Facebook and Equifax appeared first on Vivek Wadhwa.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "