Legal action taken against Facebook for allowing the company Cambridge Analytica to improperly harvest data from 50 million of its users may have many Texans wondering if there are any state statutes protecting their digital privacy.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential primary and election, Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica access to its database to look for advertising opportunities for the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and later Donald Trump.
Nuala O’Conner, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said most often users weren't aware data from their profiles was being collected when they clicked on Facebook apps like “What would be your Lucky Leprechaun name?”
“The background data is being transferred to other parties, other companies, and in this case it was Cambridge Analytica to do psychographic profiling to try to predict how you’re going to vote or who you’re going to vote for,” O’Conner said.
Cambridge Analytica then used that information to target Facebook users with political messages and advertising to influence their voting behavior during the 2016 election.
Two separate lawsuits have been filed against Facebook concerning Cambridge Analytica’s data harvesting efforts.
But there are already state laws that address some aspects of digital privacy, like a ban passed by lawmakers that prevents financial institutions from implementing f facial and voice recognition software without customers consent.
The office of the Texas attorney general, however, says currently there is no state law that mentions digital privacy related to social media platforms, like Facebook.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Cybersecurity and said it’s an issue that lawmakers have been researching ahead of the 2019 legislative session.
“What we’ve learned from state agencies we’ve talked to as well as from outside experts and folks in the industry, technology is changing and these threats are expanding just as fast as technology is. Texas is giving a fair amount attention to it but we know we aren’t doing enough,” Hughes said.
O'Conner, with the Center for Democracy and Technology, agreed that policy has not kept up with technology.
“The law in the United States is not comprehensive about what information and what data can be collected about you frankly,” O’Conner said.
O’Conner said those thinking about deleting their Facebook page might want to rethink that decision.
She said whether it’s this online platform or another, how we interact personally and professionally relies on this type of social media.
Ryan Poppe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1