Information Commissioner's legal action against Facebook shows need for systemic reform of social media

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Responsible Technology Australia says Information Commissioner's legal action against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows the need for tougher regulation and public oversight over the social media platforms.

"Today's move by the Information Commissioner shows that Facebook and other social media platforms are not above the law when it comes to how they manage our data," said Chris Cooper, executive director of Responsible Technology Australia.

"When we sign up to social media platforms we lose control of our data and, as seen in the case of Cambridge Analytica, it can then be misused to manipulate us.

"Despite the many benefits of social media, we should also recognise it can and does cause harm to Australian society. This summer alone we have seen the proliferation of fake news about bushfires and COVID-19 impact directly on our communities - we are now realising we need greater transparency about how these platforms operate and use our data.

"Saying it's the responsibility of the individual user to manage how their data is used is no longer good enough. Even if you try to opt out entirely, social media is pervasive and affects us all, which is why we need a systemic overhaul of how we regulate social media.

"This may mean beefing up the Information Commissioner's powers, or introducing an entirely new and independent social media watchdog to ensure the platforms are acting within the public interest by adequately protecting our data, our privacy and our freedom of expression.

"Regulation should include giving users the ability to opt out of targeted advertising, and restricting granular advertising, which can be misused by bad actors to micro-target certain groups.

"Australia could also further bolster our privacy and data protections by following the European Union's example and introducing a GDPR, which would require organisations to tell us what they do with our data. Or we could step up and lead the world by guaranteeing digital rights that give us complete control over our personal data.

"Tech giants have created society-changing entities that produce mega-profits as well as serious societal challenges. If they accept the profits, they should also accept responsibility for the impact of their technology, and the necessary oversight from society.

"We have regulation in all major fields - the financial sector, food safety, construction - but for some reason we have given the social media platforms that dictate how many of us get our news and information, a pass. This should be rectified.

"Social media isn't 'bad' or 'good', but we are only just beginning to truly understand what impact it has on our society. Like all technologies it can be used as a tool or as a weapon. It's up to governments to regulate new technologies to ensure they serve the public interest."

Responsible Technology Australia is an independent organisation that advocates for the ethical progression of technology for a safer, fairer, and more democratic Australia.

 
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