Gartner picks digital ethics and privacy as a strategic trend for 2019

Analyst Gartner, best known for crunching device marketshare data; charting technology hype cycles; and churning out predictive listicles of emergent capabilities at software’s cutting edge has now put businesses on watch that as well as dabbling in the usual crop of nascent technologies organizations need to be thinking about wider impacts next year — on both individuals and society.

Call it a sign of the times but digital ethics and privacy has been named as one of Gartner’s top ten strategic technology trends for 2019. That, my friends, is progress of a sort. Albeit, it also underlines how low certain tech industry practices have sunk that ethics and privacy is suddenly making a cutting-edge trend agenda, a couple of decades into the mainstream consumer Internet.

The analyst’s top picks do include plenty of techie stuff too, of course. Yes blockchain is in there. Alongside the usual string of caveats that the “technologies and concepts are immature, poorly understood and unproven in mission-critical, at-scale business operations”.

So too, on the software development side, is AI-driven development — with the analyst sneaking a look beyond the immediate future to an un-date-stamped new age of the ‘non-techie techie’ (aka the “citizen application developer”) it sees coming down the pipe, when everyone will be a pro app dev thanks to AI-driven tools automatically generating the necessary models. But that’s definitely not happening in 2019.

See also: Augmented analytics eventually (em)powering “citizen data science”.

On the hardware front, Gartner uses the umbrella moniker of autonomous things to bundle the likes of drones, autonomous vehicles and robots in one big mechanical huddle — spying a trend of embodied AIs that “automate functions previously performed by humans” and work in swarming concert. Again, though, don’t expect too much of these bots quite yet — collectively, or, well, individually either.

It’s also bundling AR, VR and MR (aka the mixed reality of eyewear like Magic Leap One or Microsoft’s Hololens) into immersive experiences — in which “the spaces that surround us define ‘the computer’ rather than the individual devices. In effect, the environment is the computer” — so you can see what it’s spying there.

On the hardcore cutting edge of tech there’s quantum computing to continue to tantalize with its fantastically potent future potential. This tech, Gartner suggests, could be used to “model molecular interactions at atomic levels to accelerate time to market for new cancer-treating drugs” — albeit, once again, there’s absolutely no timeline suggested. And QC remains firmly lodged in an “emerging state”.

One nearer-term tech trend is dubbed the empowered edge, with Gartner noting that rising numbers of connected devices are driving processing back towards the end-user — to reduce latency and traffic. Distributed servers working as part of the cloud services mix is the idea, supported, over the longer term, by maturing 5G networks. Albeit, again, 5G hasn’t been deployed at any scale yet. Though some rollouts are scheduled for 2019.

Connected devices also feature in Gartner’s picks of smart spaces (aka sensor-laden places like smart cities, the ‘smart home’ or digital workplaces — where “people, processes, services and things” come together to create “a more immersive, interactive and automated experience”); and so-called digital twins; which isn’t as immediately bodysnatcherish as it first sounds, though does refer to “digital representation of a real-world entity or system” driven by an estimated 20BN connected sensors/endpoints which it reckons will be in the wild by 2020

But what really stands out in Gartner’s list of developing and/or barely emergent strategic tech trends is digital ethics and privacy — given the concept is not reliant on any particular technology underpinning it; yet is being (essentially) characterized as an emergent property of other already deployed (but unnamed) technologies. So is actually in play — in a way that others on the list aren’t yet (or aren’t at the same mass scale).

The analyst dubs digital ethics and privacy a “growing concern for individuals, organisations and governments”, writing: “People are increasingly concerned about how their personal information is being used by organisations in both the public and private sector, and the backlash will only increase for organisations that are not proactively addressing these concerns.”

Yes, people are increasingly concerned about privacy. Though ethics and privacy are hardly new concepts (or indeed new discussion topics). So the key point is really the strategic obfuscation of issues that people do in fact care an awful lot about, via the selective and non-transparent application of various behind-the-scenes technologies up to now — as engineers have gone about collecting and using people’s data without telling them how, why and what they’re actually doing with it.

Therefore, the key issue is about the abuse of trust that has been an inherent and seemingly foundational principle of the application of far too much cutting edge technology up to now. Especially, of course, in the adtech sphere.

And which, as Gartner now notes, is coming home to roost for the industry — via people’s “growing concern” about what’s being done to them via their data. (For “individuals, organisations and governments” you can really just substitute ‘society’ in general.)

Technology development done in a vacuum with little or no consideration for societal impacts is therefore itself the catalyst for the accelerated concern about digital ethics and privacy that Gartner is here identifying rising into strategic view.

It didn’t have to be that way though. Unlike ‘blockchain’ or ‘digital twins’, ethics and privacy are not at all new concepts. They’ve been discussion topics for philosophers and moralists for scores of generations and, literally, thousands of years. Which makes engineering without consideration of human and societal impacts a very spectacular and stupid failure indeed.

And now Gartner is having to lecture organizations on the importance of building trust. Which is kind of incredible to see, set alongside bleeding edge science like quantum computing. Yet here we seemingly are in kindergarten…

It writes: “Any discussion on privacy must be grounded in the broader topic of digital ethics and the trust of your customers, constituents and employees. While privacy and security are foundational components in building trust, trust is actually about more than just these components. Trust is the acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation. Ultimately an organisation’s position on privacy must be driven by its broader position on ethics and trust. Shifting from privacy to ethics moves the conversation beyond ‘are we compliant’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing.”

The other unique thing about digital ethics and privacy is that it cuts right across all other technology areas in this trend list.

You can — and should — rightly ask what does blockchain mean for privacy? Or quantum computing for ethics? How could the empowered edge be used to enhance privacy? And how might smart spaces erode it? How can we ensure ethics get baked into AI-driven development from the get-go? How could augmented analytics help society as a whole — but which individuals might it harm? And so the questions go on.

Or at least they should go on. You should never stop asking questions where ethics and privacy are concerned. Not asking questions was the great strategic fuck-up condensed into Facebook’s ‘move fast and break things’ anti-humanitarian manifesto of yore. Y’know, the motto it had to ditch after it realized that breaking all the things didn’t scale.

Because apparently no one at the company had thought to ask how breaking everyone’s stuff would help it engender trust. And so claiming compliance without trust, as Facebook now finds itself trying to, really is the archetypal Sisyphean struggle.

The Value of Uncensorable Technology in an Age of Censorship

Governments and corporations have deployed censorship to limit speech and deprive people of vital communication channels. The ruling elite are trying to shush activists and freethinkers, but they are losing control and lashing out in frustration. This is why the emergence of decentralized tools and uncensorable money is more vital than ever.

Also read: Bitcoin After Death: The Perils of Sharing One’s Fortune

Corporate Censorship and the Loss of Control

Facebook recently engaged in a massive campaign to purge a plethora of freedom-oriented pages from their platform. They removed pages such as The Anti-Media, Free Thought Project, V is for Voluntary, and Rachel Blevins. The move came after Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube joined forces to eject Alex Jones from their respective applications back in August.

The social media titans have become zealous in their mission to purge their platforms of anti-government messages and to stifle liberty. Twitter is now known as a company that embraces censorship, and Youtube has routinely demonetized pages that disseminate information that goes against their milquetoast company ethos.

It is unsurprising, though, that these social media giants have taken this route. They are centralized social media companies in an age of decentralization; they are outdated and ready to be displaced by scrappy upstarts.

People are also waking up to the depredations of government and corporate cronyism. They are beginning to acknowledge the broken nature of partisan politics. This mass enlightenment has led to an explosion of tools and technologies with the goal of subverting the system.

Emergent Uncensorable Technologies

Developers and entrepreneurs are fashioning tools with the purpose of freeing people and opening new information channels. They are also allowing value to be expressed in peer-to-peer ways that cannot be intercepted by State agents. There are several major technologies blossoming, but the most significant is uncensorable cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency, especially bitcoin cash, allows for the transmission of value in an uncensorable fashion. This means anarchists can fund their projects without having to worry about their money getting frozen, seized, or stolen. Having uncensorable money like BCH is indispensable for helping activists achieve their goals. If they had to rely on the traditional methods of receiving donations and funding their projects, the Visa and Mastercard networks could shutter their pipeline at anytime at the behest of the government. There are other options for uncensorable money as well, including nonero, horizen, and others. These monetary technologies aren’t social media platforms per se, but money is a form of communication and having uncensorable money is indispensable to thwarting censorship.

Along with bitcoin cash, uncensorable social media and messaging platforms have arisen. In Jamie Redman’s article Facebook and Twitter Beware — Censorship-Resistant Social Media Is Here, he mentions several applications that have actually been built on Bitcoin Cash, including Memo.cash, which is a decentralized version of Twitter. Platforms like Steemit have also emerged over the last couple of years. Steemit is a blogging platform that allows people to post content without having to worry about a centralized authority deleting their content. Users can earn cryptocurrency rewards for their posts, rather than having all the value they create siphoned by the platform and its founders. Other nascent decentralized media tools include Minds and Bittube.

The Decentralized Revolution is Currently a Bad User Experience

The problem with many of these decentralized social media technologies is they are still in their infancy. They are fresh out of the womb. This means they lack easy adoption. Their usability is limited and requires a degree of technological acumen. Their user interfaces are underdeveloped and sometimes suffer from technical problems. This makes the user experience suffer, causing people to leave the platforms.

The other problem is that the platforms have not experienced viral adoption as a result of the aforesaid issues. Established platforms such as Facebook and Youtube have an entrenched user base, many of whom have taken years to establish themselves. This means a system that is both user-friendly and prone to rapid growth will have to emerge in order to supplant these old applications.

The Technological Spring: The System Will Topple and Censorship Will be Mitigated

Nonetheless, these problems are mere technical issues that will be solved in time. These technologies will eventually prosper. The decline of the legacy systems is well underway; it is inevitable.

The maniacal drive to control people and contain their voice has led to the technological springtime we are now on the verge of witnessing.

New tools and technologies have cropped up not only to make human life more leisurely and simpler — they have emerged as a way to decentralize power. Iconoclasts and developers are building applications for philosophical purposes, to mitigate the effect of power on the rest of humanity. Their goal is to diminish the impact of violent hierarchies and to even the playing field.

In the long term, this will cause power structures to topple under the weight of truth. Decentralized technologies will erode the ability of centralized institutions to censor freethinkers who pontificate on liberty and anarchy. Without censorship to indoctrinate the masses, the system will begin to unravel and the power elite will no longer be able to run roughshod over the people. Humanity will then be able to move forward into the future with dignity and decency.

This is the value of uncensorable technology.

Do you think uncensorable social media platforms will gain traction? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


OP-ed disclaimer: This is an Op-ed article. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Bitcoin.com does not endorse nor support views, opinions or conclusions drawn in this post. Bitcoin.com is not responsible for or liable for any content, accuracy or quality within the Op-ed article. Readers should do their own due diligence before taking any actions related to the content. Bitcoin.com is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any information in this Op-ed article.

The post The Value of Uncensorable Technology in an Age of Censorship appeared first on Bitcoin News.

Bitcoin Scam Ads are Destroying Lives, Says Money Expert Suing Facebook

People who have lost their entire savings to fraudulent bitcoin investment schemes advertised on Facebook are turning suicidal, Martin Lewis says. The U.K.-based consumer advisor, who runs MoneySavingExpert.com, blamed Facebook for causing the financial catastrophe by promoting scam ads on its trusted social network, many featuring himself. Lewis in April launched a lawsuit against the … Continued

The post Bitcoin Scam Ads are Destroying Lives, Says Money Expert Suing Facebook appeared first on CCN

Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and Japan

Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and Japan

Google has announced that regulated cryptocurrency exchanges will be allowed to advertise on its platforms in the United States and Japan starting in October. This removes some of the restrictions the company placed on crypto ads in June.

Also read: 160 Crypto Exchanges Seek to Enter Japanese Market, Regulator Reveals

Some Crypto Ads Will Be Allowed

Google has posted a notice on its website regarding changes in its cryptocurrency ads policy, stating:

The Google ads policy on financial products and services will be updated in October 2018 to allow regulated cryptocurrency exchanges to advertise in the United States and Japan…Advertisers will need to be certified with Google for the specific country in which their ads will serve.

The company considers “financial products and services to be those related to the management or investment of money and cryptocurrencies, including personalized advice.”

Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and JapanGoogle explained that “Advertisers will be able to apply for certification once the policy launches in October,” noting that “This policy will apply globally to all accounts that advertise these financial products.”

In May, Google announced restrictions on ads relating to “Cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice).” This policy went into effect in June. According to Cnbc, Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., gets roughly 86 percent of its total revenue from advertising. The firm earned more than $54 billion in ad revenue in the first half of this year.

Google’s Current Crypto Ads Policy

Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and JapanGoogle’s Advertising Policies section explains that some financial products are restricted “Due to the inherent complexities and risks involved” in their trading. The company noted that the information will be updated once the new policy goes into effect.

Currently, restricted products include “Ads for cryptocurrencies and related content” and “Ad destinations that aggregate or compare issuers of cryptocurrencies or related products.” For example, “Ads for initial coin offerings, ads promoting the purchase or sale of cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency wallets, cryptocurrency trading advice” are prohibited, the firm wrote. Furthermore, ads about “Cryptocurrency trading signals or investment advice; aggregators or affiliate sites containing related content or broker reviews” are also prohibited.

Other Platforms’ Crypto Ads Policies

Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and JapanSome other major platforms have similar policies regarding cryptocurrency advertising. After banning them in January, Facebook started allowing some types of crypto ads in June.

Twitter’s ads policy page currently lists “Cryptocurrency ICOs” and “Cryptocurrency token sales” under “financial services and related content” that Twitter permits the promotion of “with restrictions.”

Microsoft’s policy page for Bing ads currently states that advertising for “Cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency related products including, but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency wallets” are not permitted.

What do you think of Google bringing back some crypto ads? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


Need to calculate your bitcoin holdings? Check our tools section.

The post Google Bringing Back Crypto Ads in US and Japan appeared first on Bitcoin News.

PR: IX Launches Exchange with BTC as Platform Token

IX Launches Exchange with BTC as Platform Token

This is a paid press release, which contains forward looking statements, and should be treated as advertising or promotional material. Bitcoin.com does not endorse nor support this product/service. Bitcoin.com is not responsible for or liable for any content, accuracy or quality within the press release.

The digital asset trading platform, which invested $ 10 million on purchasing the unusual overseas domain name, IX.com, officially announced to launch. As the world’s first exchange with BTC as platform token, in which one can get multiple high returns by the quantity of BTC he holds.

Through half a year’s endeavor, the founding team and early employees of IX try their best to build the corporate into international platform with strong industry impact. IX owns its unique three major technological innovations and five major operational characteristics. And it begins to open digital asset market from today.

International Top Technology and Operation Team

The founding team of IX is composed of industry specialists. All of the early employees have educational background of prestigious universities, including Yale University, Columbia University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Tsinghua University and Peking university, etc., as well as all of them have majored in technology related disciplines such as Finance, Network Security, Economics, Computer, Software Engineering and so on. Moreover, the team members also own senior business background of Facebook, NTT DoCoMo, ALSTOM, LinkedIn, Ford, BitFlyer, Bitmex and FCoin, etc. global enterprises with sure influence power. It is worth mentioning that IX’s founding team members own the experience of leading a number of large-scale famous Internet projects as well as development and operation of several mainstream digital assets exchanges.

The First Major Technological Innovation in the Industry

The THREE MAJOR TECHNOLOGAL INNOVATIONS of IX involves its breakthroughs in digital asset security technology, namely, 100 percent cold wallet protection, which can achieve non-risk storage for users’ assets for its thorough isolation from the public network. Second, its self-developing high performance matchmaking engine supports the matching speed of trading pairs by 2 million TPS, as well as ensures the uninterrupted service and non-carton operation. Third, IX’s extensive trading depth can access to API of the mainstream exchanges, mines and institutions, in order to synchronize real time transaction depth and ensure technical support for huge volumes of users’ transactions.

Operational Rules to Maximize Users’ Benefits

Additionally, IX owns its FIVE MAJOR OPERATIONAL CHARACTERISTCS too. First, it originally creates BTC as one of the proofs of stake on the platform. As long as one holds BTC, and then he can get a high service charge sharing bonus of the platform; Second, IX originally creates 20 second trading rules. It means that if there is no new transaction in any 20 consecutive seconds, then the last trader will receive 40% of all transaction fees incurred by the current cryptocurrency; Thirdly, as long as one has platform token IX, he can not only get the service charge bonus, but also participate in the platform community governance; Fourth, one can be rewarded with commission by inviting friends. All the transaction charges generated by the invitee within 90 days will be rewarded to the inviter according to a certain proportion. At the same time, the early inviters will receive a series of benefits; Fifth, all users’ transaction fees will be refunded by platform IX according to 100 percent. Thus, it can be seen, IX’ s five major operating characteristics fully maximize the interests of users, with the industry’s unprecedented big innovations and powerful impact.

Of course, IX also hosts regular corporate events so as to attract the early participants. From the current planning perspective, we can see that the founding team of IX will continuously work on improving the products and services, devoting all their energy and time with courage, passion ambition, and vigor. In the meanwhile, it will promote the community building according to the actual situation. Finally, IX will realize free people’s free association and maximize the possibilities of everyone in the world of blockchain.

For more, please contact them at
Telegram:am:https://t.me/ixofficial
Biyong:ng:https://0.plus/ixofficial

Company Name: IX
Contact Person: Heatonon
Email:freebarley@gmail.com
Country: SG
Website: https://www.ix.com

This is a paid press release. Readers should do their own due diligence before taking any actions related to the promoted company or any of its affiliates or services. Bitcoin.com is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any content, goods or services mentioned in the press release.

The post PR: IX Launches Exchange with BTC as Platform Token appeared first on Bitcoin News.

Chat app Line hopes its own crypto token can solve its user growth problem

Line, the Japanese messaging app firm that’s best known for its cutesy characters and stickers, is pushing deeper into crypto after it launched its own token to help grow its stagnant user base.

Line went public two years ago with 218 million monthly active users, but it hasn’t been able to kick on. The company no longer gives out its worldwide user number, but the number of active users in its four biggest markets has fallen from 169 million in Q2 2017 to 164 million in its recent Q2 2018 period.

Link — Line’s token — isn’t being minted through an ICO, instead, it’ll be given out to Line users as an incentive for using certain services. Line hasn’t said exactly how it can be earned yet, although it is likely that it’ll be tied to specific activities to promote engagement.

Line plans to use Link to incentive user activity on its messaging app and other services

The token will be listed on Bitbox — Line’s crypto exchange — and it’ll be used it to buy content like stickers and webcomics, as well as other Line services. It’ll also be possible to use Link to get a lower commission rate on trading in the same way that Binance, the world’s largest exchange, uses its BNB token.

Line currently has a virtual currency for its in-app content and services, and you’d imagine that Link will replace it in the future.

It’s worth noting, however, that Link hasn’t launched in Japan yet. That’s because Line is awaiting regulatory approval for its token and exchange, so, for now, those in Japan — which is Line’s largest market — will earn virtual tokens which can be traded for Link in the future.

Line is struggling to grow its user numbers

Link will launch next month, and it follows the announcement of BitBox in July and the launch of a dedicated crypto fund in early August.

Line has dodged the legal questions around token sales by not holding an ICO, and the fact it is using the currency to incentivize user engagement and activity isn’t a huge surprise. Line went public in a dual U.S-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion in 2016 but, despite user numbers declining, it has grown its revenue through additional services.

Increased competition from the likes of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp is likely its biggest threat, so incentivizing users is a logical strategy. Of course, that depends on how useful Link becomes. If users can exchange it for a decent amount of cash or credits inside Line’s platform it may gain appeal, but if they just pick up trivial amounts, it may be less interesting to them. The bigger picture will be when Link replaces Line’s virtual currency for all purchases but that alone isn’t likely to boost user engagement.

Despite declining user numbers, Line has grown revenue by pushing out services that connect to its messaging platform.

Line also plans to use Link — and the blockchain it has developed to power it — to host decentralized applications (dapps) that will connect to its messaging platform. The company already does a lot more than messaging — for example payments, ride-hailing, music and videos — and it plans to tap third-party developers to build dapps. Generally, though, dapps haven’t taken off. The collectibles game Cryptokitties did blow up late last year, but studies have suggested user activity is massively down this year as the fad has slowly worn off.

Crypto enthusiasts will no doubt take positives from Line’s latest move — it is arguably the largest company to embrace crypto, in terms of end-user audience reach — but it remains to be seen whether Link and its dapps platform can help it crack its user growth and retention issues.

“Over the last seven years, Line was able to grow into a global service because of our users, and now with Link, we wanted to build a user-friendly reward system that gives back to our users. With Link, we would like to continue developing as a user participation-based platform, one that rewards and shares added value through the introduction of easy-to-use dapps for people’s daily lives,” said Line CEO Takeshi Idezawa in a statement.

Unlike Bitcoin, which is mined, Line has minted a total of one billion Link tokens which it said will be “gradually issued according to how this ecosystem develops.” The company plans to keep 200 million tokens, with the remaining 800 million made available as user rewards.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Something’s Brewing at Facebook’s Cryptocurrency Division

It’s not entirely clear what exactly is going on in Facebook’s nascent cryptocurrency division, but several reports suggest that something is afoot. Facebook Meets with Cryptocurrency Project Stellar The first comes from Business Insider, who reports that Facebook’s blockchain research group recently met with Stellar to discuss how the social media conglomerate could leverage distributed

The post Something’s Brewing at Facebook’s Cryptocurrency Division appeared first on CCN

Opinion | How Blockchain Could Fix Facebook’s Fake News Problem

After the 2016 United States presidential election, Facebook started to receive flak for its possible role in Donald Trump’s victory. The usage of Facebook profiles for data analysis by Cambridge Analytica, the immense number of fake news articles on the site and the impact of confirmation bubbles meant that Facebook’s platform was being used to … Continued

The post Opinion | How Blockchain Could Fix Facebook’s Fake News Problem appeared first on CCN

Facebook under fresh political pressure as UK watchdog calls for “ethical pause” of ad ops

The UK’s privacy watchdog revealed yesterday that it intends to fine Facebook the maximum possible (£500k) under the country’s 1998 data protection regime for breaches related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

But that’s just the tip of the regulatory missiles now being directed at the platform and its ad-targeting methods — and indeed, at the wider big data economy’s corrosive undermining of individuals’ rights.

Alongside yesterday’s update on its investigation into the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a policy report — entitled Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence — in which it sets out a series of policy recommendations related to how personal information is used in modern political campaigns.

In the report it calls directly for an “ethical pause” around the use of microtargeting ad tools for political campaigning — to “allow the key players — government, parliament, regulators, political parties, online platforms and citizens — to reflect on their responsibilities in respect of the use of personal information in the era of big data before there is a greater expansion in the use of new technologies”.

The watchdog writes [emphasis ours]:

Rapid social and technological developments in the use of big data mean that there is limited knowledge of – or transparency around – the ‘behind the scenes’ data processing techniques (including algorithms, analysis, data matching and profiling) being used by organisations and businesses to micro-target individuals. What is clear is that these tools can have a significant impact on people’s privacy. It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and that the law is upheld. When the purpose for using these techniques is related to the democratic process, the case for high standards of transparency is very strong.

Engagement with the electorate is vital to the democratic process; it is therefore understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes. The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing. Without a high level of transparency – and therefore trust amongst citizens that their data is being used appropriately – we are at risk of developing a system of voter surveillance by default. This could have a damaging long-term effect on the fabric of our democracy and political life.

It also flags a number of specific concerns attached to Facebook’s platform and its impact upon people’s rights and democratic processes — some of which are sparking fresh regulatory investigations into the company’s business practices.

“A significant finding of the ICO investigation is the conclusion that Facebook has not been sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign,” it writes. “Whilst these concerns about Facebook’s advertising model exist generally in relation to its commercial use, they are heightened when these tools are used for political campaigning. Facebook’s use of relevant interest categories for targeted advertising and it’s, Partner Categories Service are also cause for concern. Although the service has ceased in the EU, the ICO will be looking into both of these areas, and in the case of partner categories, commencing a new, broader investigation.”

The ICO says its discussions with Facebook for this report focused on “the level of transparency around how Facebook user data and third party data is being used to target users, and the controls available to users over the adverts they see”.

Among the concerns it raises about what it dubs Facebook’s “very complex” online targeting advertising model are [emphasis ours]:

Our investigation found significant fair-processing concerns both in terms of the information available to users about the sources of the data that are being used to determine what adverts they see and the nature of the profiling taking place. There were further concerns about the availability and transparency of the controls offered to users over what ads and messages they receive. The controls were difficult to find and were not intuitive to the user if they wanted to control the political advertising they received. Whilst users were informed that their data would be used for commercial advertising, it was not clear that political advertising would take place on the platform.

The ICO also found that despite a significant amount of privacy information and controls being made available, overall they did not effectively inform the users about the likely uses of their personal information. In particular, more explicit information should have been made available at the first layer of the privacy policy. The user tools available to block or remove ads were also complex and not clearly available to users from the core pages they would be accessing. The controls were also limited in relation to political advertising.

The company has been criticized for years for confusing and complex privacy controls. But during the investigation, the ICO says it was also not provided with “satisfactory information” from the company to understand the process it uses for determining what interest segments individuals are placed in for ad targeting purposes.

“Whilst Facebook confirmed that the content of users’ posts were not used to derive categories or target ads, it was difficult to understand how the different ‘signals’, as Facebook called them, built up to place individuals into categories,” it writes.

Similar complaints of foot-dragging responses to information requests related to political ads on its platform have also been directed at Facebook by a parliamentary committee that’s running an inquiry into fake news and online disinformation — and in April the chair of the committee accused Facebook of “a pattern of evasive behavior”.

So the ICO is not alone in feeling that Facebook’s responses to requests for specific information have lacked the specific information being sought. (CEO Mark Zuckerberg also annoyed the European Parliament with highly evasive responses to their highly detailed questions this Spring.)

Meanwhile, a European media investigation in May found that Facebook’s platform allows advertisers to target individuals based on interests related to sensitive categories such as political beliefs, sexuality and religion — which are categories that are marked out as sensitive information under regional data protection law, suggesting such targeting is legally problematic.

The investigation found that Facebook’s platform enables this type of ad targeting in the EU by making sensitive inferences about users — inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. And its defense against charges that what it’s doing breaks regional law is that inferred interests are not personal data.

However the ICO report sends a very chill wind rattling towards that fig leaf, noting “there is a concern that by placing users into categories, Facebook have been processing sensitive personal information – and, in particular, data about political opinions”.

It further writes [emphasis ours]:

Facebook made clear to the ICO that it does ‘not target advertising to EU users on the basis of sensitive personal data’… The ICO accepts that indicating a person is interested in a topic is not the same as formally placing them within a special personal information category. However, a risk clearly exists that advertisers will use core audience categories in a way that does seek to target individuals based on sensitive personal information. In the context of this investigation, the ICO is particularly concerned that such categories can be used for political advertising.

The ICO believes that this is part of a broader issue about the processing of personal information by online platforms in the use of targeted advertising; this goes beyond political advertising. It is clear from academic research conducted by the University of Madrid on this topic that a significant privacy risk can arise. For example, advertisers were using these categories to target individuals with the assumption that they are, for example, homosexual. Therefore, the effect was that individuals were being singled out and targeted on the basis of their sexuality. This is deeply concerning, and it is the ICO’s intention as a concerned authority under the GDPR to work via the one-stop-shop system with the Irish Data Protection Commission to see if there is scope to undertake a wider examination of online platforms’ use of special categories of data in their targeted advertising models.

So, essentially, the regulator is saying it will work with other EU data protection authorities to push for a wider, structural investigation of online ad targeting platforms which put users into categories based on inferred interests — and certainly where those platforms are allowing targeting against special categories of data (such as data related to racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, health data, sexuality).

Another concern the ICO raises that’s specifically attached to Facebook’s business is transparency around its so-called “partner categories” service — an option for advertisers that allows them to use third party data (i.e. personal data collected by third party data brokers) to create custom audiences on its platform.

In March, ahead of a major update to the EU’s data protection framework, Facebook announced it would be “winding down” this service down over the next six months.

But the ICO is going to investigate it anyway.

“A preliminary investigation of the service has raised significant concerns about transparency of use of the [partner categories] service for political advertising and wider concerns about the legal basis for the service, including Facebook’s claim that it is acting only as a processor for the third-party data providers,” it writes. “Facebook announced in March 2018 that it will be winding down this service over a six-month period, and we understand that it has already ceased in the EU. The ICO has also commenced a broader investigation into the service under the DPA 1998 (which will be concluded at a later date) as we believe it is in the public interest to do so.”

In conclusion on Facebook the regulator asserts the company has not been “sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign”.

“Individuals can opt out of particular interests, and that is likely to reduce the number of ads they receive on political issues, but it will not completely block them,” it points out. “These concerns about transparency lie at the core of our investigation. Whilst these concerns about Facebook’s advertising model exist in relation in general terms and its use in the commercial sphere, the concerns are heightened when these tools are used for political campaigning.”

The regulator also looked at political campaign use of three other online ad platforms — Google, Twitter and Snapchat — although Facebook gets the lion’s share of its attention in the report given the platform has also attracted the lion’s share of UK political parties’ digital spending. (“Figures from the Electoral Commission show that the political parties spent £3.2 million on direct Facebook advertising during the 2017 general election,” it notes. “This was up from £1.3 million during the 2015 general election. By contrast, the political parties spent £1 million on Google advertising.”)

The ICO is recommending that all online platforms which provide advertising services to political parties and campaigns should include experts within the sales support team who can provide political parties and campaigns with “specific advice on transparency and accountability in relation to how data is used to target users”.

“Social media companies have a responsibility to act as information fiduciaries, as citizens increasingly live their lives online,” it further writes.

It also says it will work with the European Data Protection Board, and the relevant lead data protection authorities in the region, to ensure that online platforms comply with the EU’s new data protection framework (GDPR) — and specifically to ensure that users “understand how personal information is processed in the targeted advertising model, and that effective controls are available”.

“This includes greater transparency in relation to the privacy settings, and the design and prominence of privacy notices,” it warns.

Facebook’s use of dark pattern design and A/B tested social engineering to obtain user consent for processing their data at the same time as obfuscating its intentions for people’s data has been a long-standing criticism of the company — but one which the ICO is here signaling is very much on the regulatory radar in the EU.

So expecting new laws — as well as lots more GDPR lawsuits — seems prudent.

The regulator is also pushing for all four online platforms to “urgently roll out planned transparency features in relation to political advertising to the UK” — in consultation with both relevant domestic oversight bodies (the ICO and the Electoral Commission).

In Facebook’s case, it has been developing policies around political ad transparency — amid a series of related data scandals in recent years, which have ramped up political pressure on the company. But self-regulation looks very unlikely to go far enough (or fast enough) to fix the real risks now being raised at the highest political levels.

“We opened this report by asking whether democracy has been disrupted by the use of data analytics and new technologies. Throughout this investigation, we have seen evidence that it is beginning to have a profound effect whereby information asymmetry between different groups of voters is beginning to emerge,” writes the ICO. “We are a now at a crucial juncture where trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic process risks being undermined if an ethical pause is not taken. The recommendations made in this report — if effectively implemented — will change the behaviour and compliance of all the actors in the political campaigning space.”

Another key policy recommendation the ICO is making is to urge the UK government to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” to introduce a statutory Code of Practice under the country’s new data protection law for the use of personal information in political campaigns.

The report also essentially calls out all the UK’s political parties for data protection failures — a universal problem that’s very evidently being supercharged by the rise of accessible and powerful online platforms which have enabled political parties to combine (and thus enrich) voter databases they are legally entitled to with all sorts of additional online intelligence that’s been harvested by the likes of Facebook and other major data brokers.

Hence the ICO’s concern about “developing a system of voter surveillance by default”. And why she’s pushing for online platforms to “act as information fiduciaries”.

Or, in other words, without exercising great responsibility around people’s information, online ad platforms like Facebook risk becoming the enabling layer that breaks democracy and shatters civic society.

Particular concerns being attached by the ICO to political parties’ activities include: The purchasing of marketing lists and lifestyle information from data brokers without sufficient due diligence; a lack of fair processing; and use of third party data analytics companies with insufficient checks around consent. And the regulator says it has several related investigations ongoing.

In March, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, foreshadowed the conclusions in this report, telling a UK parliamentary committee she would be recommending a code of conduct for political use of personal data, and pushing for increased transparency around how and where people’s data is flowing — telling MPs: “We need information that is transparent, otherwise we will push people into little filter bubbles, where they have no idea about what other people are saying and what the other side of the campaign is saying. We want to make sure that social media is used well.”

The ICO says now that it will work closely with government to determine the scope of the Code. It also wants the government to conduct a review of regulatory gaps.

We’ve reached out to the Cabinet Office for a government response to the ICO’s recommendations. Update: A Cabinet Office spokesperson directed us to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — and a DCMS spokesman told us the government will wait to review the full ICO report once it’s completed before setting out a formal response.

A Facebook spokesman declined to answer specific questions related to the report — instead sending us this short statement, attributed to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan: “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries. We’re reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”

Here’s the ICO’s summary of its ten policy recommendations:

1) The political parties must work with the ICO, the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission to identify and implement a cross-party solution to improve transparency around the use of commonly held data.

2) The ICO will work with the Electoral Commission, Cabinet Office and the political parties to launch a version of its successful Your Data Matters campaign before the next General Election. The aim will be to increase transparency and build trust and confidence amongst 5 the electorate on how their personal data is being used during political campaigns.

3) Political parties need to apply due diligence when sourcing personal information from third party organisations, including data brokers, to ensure the appropriate consent has been sought from the individuals concerned and that individuals are effectively informed in line with transparency requirements under the GDPR. This should form part of the data protection impact assessments conducted by political parties.

4) The Government should legislate at the earliest opportunity to introduce a statutory Code of Practice under the DPA2018 for the use of personal information in political campaigns. The ICO will work closely with Government to determine the scope of the Code.

5) It should be a requirement that third party audits be carried out after referendum campaigns are concluded to ensure personal data held by the campaign is deleted, or if it has been shared, the appropriate consent has been obtained.

6) The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation should work with the ICO, the Electoral Commission to conduct an ethical debate in the form of a citizen jury to understand further the impact of new and developing technologies and the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

7) All online platforms providing advertising services to political parties and campaigns should include expertise within the sales support team who can provide political parties and campaigns with specific advice on transparency and accountability in relation to how data is used to target users.

8) The ICO will work with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), and the relevant lead Data Protection Authorities, to ensure online platforms’ compliance with the GDPR – that users understand how personal information is processed in the targeted advertising model and that effective controls are available. This includes greater transparency in relation to the privacy settings and the design and prominence of privacy notices.

9) All of the platforms covered in this report should urgently roll out planned transparency features in relation to political advertising to the UK. This should include consultation and evaluation of these tools by the ICO and the Electoral Commission.

10)The Government should conduct a review of the regulatory gaps in relation to content and provenance and jurisdictional scope of political advertising online. This should include consideration of requirements for digital political advertising to be archived in an open data repository to enable scrutiny and analysis of the data.