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N.Y. Hopes Cambridge Analytica Testimony Gives Privacy Ideas

The Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser, will be speaking to New York lawmakers about data harvesting practices. Officials hope to stop big tech from “exploiting all the information they have on us.”

(TNS) — A pair of prominent figures in the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal will offer testimony Friday as state lawmakers explore ways to better protect New Yorkers against the harvesting and sale of personal data by tech giants including Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Brittany Kaiser, whistleblower and former business development director of the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, and David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design and a prominent data privacy advocate, will talk to lawmakers in Manhattan about their role in exposing Cambridge Analytica’s illicit harvesting of personal data from Facebook and other sources.

“Privacy is a right that all of us have and currently with social media and big tech they’ve been just compiling a lot of data on us, making profiles, making money and exploiting all the information they have on us,” said Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Nassau), who heads the Senate committee on Consumer Protection, Internet and Technology.

Kaiser first came forward with information about Cambridge Analytica’s shady business practices last year after another whistleblower went public about the company’s data harvesting.

Since then she has written a book and spent her time issuing warnings about data collection, whether it be private financial information being sold by credit rating agencies to data dealers, or social media and political consulting firms targeting customers with misleading or flat-out inaccurate information.

“Unfortunately we’ve seen that if companies are left alone they are not making the ethical decision, so now it’s in the hands of lawmakers and regulators to make sure companies are protecting their consumers,” Kaiser told the Daily News.

Thomas said hearing from the whistleblower directly should be a real eye-opener for his colleagues and others.

“She worked on projects where Facebook had been used to manipulate whole populations for elections and she knows how harmful such a tool is and what Facebook executives are doing to try not to change how Facebook operates, and that itself is why we need to have state regulations," he said.

Thomas said legislation he sponsored this year and will re-introduce in 2020 seeks to require companies to better inform consumers about what personal information is being collected, how it’s being used and to whom it is being sold. The New York Privacy Act faced stiff opposition from lobbyists and tech companies during the last legislative session and has been compared to the groundbreaking California Consumer Privacy Act enacted last year.

The bill focuses on transparency and control and would allow people to find out what data companies are collecting on them, see who that information is sold to or shared with, request that it be deleted or not be disseminated at all.

It would also require businesses to act as “data fiduciaries,” which would legally bar businesses from using data in a way that would benefit their companies and harm users.

“Given how much information these data companies have about us, I am telling them now they have a duty of loyalty to the consumer and they have to balance it with their duty to their shareholders,” Thomas said. “They cannot always put profit over people. They have to look at what is best for the consumer.”

©2019 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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