This Threat to Democracy is Made in America.

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About the Author: Susan Ariel Aaronson George is a research professor of international affairs at the University of Washington, where she directs the Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub.

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At the behest of the US, representatives of 100 countries will gather online on Thursday and Friday to examine how they can maintain democracy. Summit for Democracy has a packed agenda, but ignores a major threat: Firms in the US and elsewhere use large reserves of personal data to manipulate our behavior, both directly and indirectly. dangerous Our autonomy, human rights and democracy. This threat to democracy was made in America and still is, and America’s allies know it.

Americans have developed, funded and sustained a new economic sector built on personal-data analysis. In exchange for the free services, users give firms such as Google, Amazon and Facebook control over the access and reuse of their shared personal data. These firms collect and monetize this data to create new products and services. They sell their analysis and sometimes data sets to a wide range of government and corporate clients. Harvard scholar Shoshanna Zuboff calls these practices surveillance capitalism, because these firms “repackage personal data as forecasting products for customers who want to learn how we think, what we will do in the future, and even how we vote.” These practices undermine political and social stability. If individuals can be easily manipulated, whether through advertisements or with divisive content, they are less able to participate effectively in a democracy and trust their fellow citizens.

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The business model is also an indirect threat to democracy. Firms and individuals can mixing personal data From trust levels to military activities, along with other data sets to reveal information about a state system or society. This reliance on personal data has become a multi-layered threat to democracies around the world.

The public is concerned about these practices. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that many feared their data was being used without their consent and were concerned that companies could use their customers’ personal data to discriminate against and manipulate them. can. But at the same time, users are not prepared To leave these firms, because they (and their networks of friends, relatives and coworkers) depend on them.

Some firms seem to be reducing their reliance on these business practices. For example, Apple is using transparency to empower consumers to avoid apps that misuse their personal data. In November, Facebook said it would be shutting down its face recognition system. Users who chose (accepted) the facial recognition option will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos. The company, now run by Meta remove Personal facial recognition templates of more than a billion people will be available until regulatory policies clarify how companies can use such data. It’s a start, but it doesn’t change the big picture: Companies like these continue to undermine democracy through the exploitation of personal data. The US government recognizes the danger. In its 2021 report, the US National Intelligence Council warned that in the future, “privacy and anonymity could effectively disappear by choice or government order … Real-time, manufactured or synthetic media may further distort truth and reality.” could destabilize society on a scale and speed that dwarfs current propaganda challenges.”

US policymakers are divided on how to address the problem and have focused their efforts on personal data protection legislation and reducing the monopoly power of these firms. But he hasn’t faced the business model head for several reasons. Earlier pandemic underlined global Dependence on the biggest tech firms. Second, the US government relies on these firms for expertise, research, products and services in areas ranging from nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, extended reality, the Internet of Things to quantum technology, autonomous vehicles and beyond. not surprisingly some officers are Concerned That further regulation could undermine the innovation potential of these firms, in turn reducing US competitiveness and defensive preparedness. (European officials have similar concerns.) Nevertheless, in October 2021, the Department of Justice, joined by 11 states, initiated the a federal antitrust suit Accused of abusing the monopoly of online search against Google. Federal Trade Commission filed court case Joined in, for alleged anti-competitive actions against Facebook a suit 48 from the Attorney General.

Given these differing perspectives, the US is sending mixed signals to its allies, including those gathering online this week. On the one hand, the US is trying to promote international cooperation to rein in these companies. this is working with the European Union through institutions such as a Business and Technology Council, and a broad coalition of partners on competition policies and a shared approach to data governance OECD And G7, And Congress is trying to pass a national personal data protection law.

But the US government is also actively trying to undermine the regulation of these firms and their practices in other countries. For example, Reuters informed of US government officials in November argued against draft EU rules designed to create more competition and facilitate data portability. The US reportedly argued that requiring the US tech giant to share information with rivals could put the companies’ intellectual property and trade secrets at risk. America also tried to lighten The UK’s approach to personal data protection. Finally, while Congress hears these firms’ monopolistic power, data brokers, and anti-competitive practices, it has done little to prompt these firms to reconsider their use of personal data or to examine whether these practices are used by direct or indirect human agency. And how can it affect democracy? whole.

There is little chance that this week’s summit will address any of these concerns. The White House planned to launch a new coalition in support of a free and open Internet during the summit. but that plan was apparently pulled at the last minute“After substantial pushback from leading digital rights groups,” Protocol reported.

America’s dirty attitude must end now if we want these companies and democracies to flourish. Congress must pass laws that require personal data to be protected from misuse and hold firms accountable for inadequate cybersecurity. We should encourage data giants to find new ways to fund their services. Finally, we need to build on a long history of global cooperation to address cross-border threats. The Biden administration should begin brainstorming with its allies this week.

Such guest comments are written by writers outside of Barron’s and Marketwatch newsrooms. They reflect the perspective and views of the authors. Submit commentary proposals and other feedback to [email protected]


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