Speaking to the U.K. Parliament's media committee, Elizabeth Denham updated lawmakers on her office's investigation into the use of data analysis by political campaigns - a probe that has already seen Facebook slapped with a maximum fine for data misuse. Denham warned that democracy is under threat because behavioral targeting techniques developed to sell products are now being used to promote political campaigns and candidates.
"I don't think that we want to use the same model that is used to sell us holidays and shoes and cars to engage with people and voters," she said. "I think people expect more than that." New rules are needed to govern advertising and the use of data, Denham said. She called on all players — the government and regulators but also the big internet firms like Facebook and smaller brokers of online data — to reassess their responsibilities in the era of big data.
"We really need to tighten up controls across the entire ecosystem because it matters to our democratic processes," she said. The U.K. data regulator is conducting a broad inquiry into how political parties, data companies and social media platforms use personal information to target voters during political campaigns, including Britain's 2016 Brexit referendum on EU membership. The investigation followed allegations that British consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly used information from more than 87 million Facebook accounts to manipulate elections.
Denham said legal systems had failed to keep up with the rapid development of the internet, and that tech companies need to be subject to greater oversight. "I think the time for self-regulation is over," she said. "That ship has sailed."
Committee chair Damian Collins said he heard her opinion "loudly" and repeated his demand that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify before his committee. As she updated lawmakers on the probe, Denham announced fines for the campaign backing Britain's departure from the European Union and an insurance company founded by its millionaire backer totaling 135,000 pounds ($176,000) for breaches of data laws.
Denham said the Brexit campaign group Leave.EU and Eldon Insurance company — founded by businessman Arron Banks —were fined 60,000 pounds each for "serious breaches" of electronic marketing laws. Leave.EU was also fined 15,000 pounds for a separate breach in which almost 300,000 emails were sent to Eldon customers with a newsletter for the Brexit campaign group.
The data watchdog is also "investigating allegations that Eldon Insurance Services Limited shared customer data obtained for insurance purposes with Leave.EU."