News Room

Online Data Collection is the New Wild West

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

April 13, 2018

While most Americans are not shocked by revelations that outside companies obtained access to Facebook users’ personal data, they’re not happy about it. While Facebook has received the most intense scrutiny after admitting it improperly shared the data of 87-million users with political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, Google is also in the spotlight for collecting and storing massive amounts of personal data. A privacy firestorm is swirling as skeptical consumers call for more government regulation of social media and tech companies that appear to be amassing a treasure trove of our private information.

Online data collection is the new wild west and we need a way to pull back the reins. Social media platforms have pushed the narrative that gathering and selling its users’ data is risk-free because the goal is to provide meaningful content and relevant marketing. While testifying this week before members of Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that users have complete power over their data based on its “Privacy” category citing the site’s “inline” controls that gives its users the option that says “Who should see this?”. However, that’s not the kind of creepy surveillance that consumers are concerned about.

Facebook keeps all your data including every message you’ve sent or received, all the contacts in your phone, and all the audio messages you’ve ever sent or been sent. Facebook also stores what it thinks you might be interested in based off the things you’ve liked and what you and your friends talk about. Facebook can track where you are, what applications you have installed, when you use them, access to your webcam and microphone at any time, your contacts, your e-mails, your calendar and your call history.

To add insult to injury, Facebook has no idea what happens to its users’ information after an app gets access to it, like in the case of the personality quiz app that millions of Americans unwittingly downloaded which provided their data to Cambridge Analytica.

Search engine Behemoth, Google has an even wider reach when it comes to tracking and profiting billions of people around the globe. The company saves every image you’ve ever searched for and saved, every location you’ve ever searched for or clicked on, every news article you’ve read, and every Google search you’ve made. And it’s saved every YouTube video you’ve ever searched for or viewed.

We now know that when tech giants collect and store massive amounts of personal data, it can easily fall into the wrong hands and cause financial ruin and possibly even put consumers’ personal safety at risk. Companies must do a better job of securing the consumer data they collect and we must have more oversight and stronger authority to enforce privacy laws.

Two senators have introduced the CONSENT Act that requires edge providers to obtain opt-in consent to “use, share, or sell users’ personal information,” tell users about data collection and how the info is used, and protect it with reasonable measures. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would enforce the rules. This is a good first step but more oversight is needed.

We thought that Facebook was using our information to sell us consumer products like t-shirts, instead we were sold lies, deceit and political despots. In the end, Facebook sold us out, stole our most private information and all the while kept the American public in the dark.

Brian Kabateck is a Los Angeles trial lawyer and a preeminent leader in the fight to ensure access to the justice system. By wielding his extensive legal and political skills, Mr. Kabateck has become an influential advocate in the courtroom and at the California State Capitol for consumers’ rights and protections. He’s the incoming president of the Los Angeles Bar Association and a recent past president of the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC).