What is happening within the business of privacy, or “privacy tech”? Lots of privacy-minded players are cropping up … some of them bold enough to take on the Giants. DuckDuckGo, Brave, Qwant … to name a few – have had enough of adtech – or the Big Tech Giants who lobby to support a business model which many say violates our right to privacy.

There’s a relatively new initiative taking place in the EU, called articl8. Articl8 is the world’s first pro-privacy corporate lobby group, ensuring that the pro-privacy business model has a voice in politics.

Joining us on last week’s GoodTech vidcast was the leader of articl8 – world-renowned privacy advocate, speaker and president of ThinkPrivacy – Alexander Hanff.

Alexander Hanff’s Journey

Alexander Hanff has worked in the tech sector for a long time. “For me, technology was something that really empowered me, and lifted me out of a very difficult childhood. It enabled me to excel and find something that I was good at,” Alexander says.

As time went on, Alexander started to realize that the technologies he loved were starting to be used in ways he didn’t feel were appropriate. Instead of being used to empower people, and give people opportunity, it would be used to monetize and control people. “This concerned me as a technologist. I wanted to look at it from an academic perspective, and see if my suspicions were correct. It turned out that I had been right; these tools that had enabled me, and empowered me in such strong ways, were now being used against us,” he says.

Psychographic Profiling

Alexander gives a lot of speeches on data ethics, and one issue that he covers is the ‘Hawthorne Effect’. He explains, “The Hawthorne Effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains that people change their behavior if they know that they’re being observed. It’s well established, particularly in experimental psychology.” He continues by mentioning an episode of the Netflix show ‘Black Mirror’, called ‘Nosedive’, which he explains is a good example of the Hawthorne Effect. In the episode, society has enforced a social credit system, where they score other people through their phones, and their interaction in the social world is based on what their social credit score is. Alexander says, “If you look at China, it’s almost as if they saw that episode of ‘Black Mirror’, and then introduced the social credit system in China. It’s a mechanism to control the population, because if people know they’re being watched, they change their behavior. They change the things they say, where they go, etc. When you’re being constantly observed, you lose those freedoms. You become almost like a robot. And then you have what Cambridge Analytica was doing, which is psychographic profiling.” 

Alexander tells us that Cambridge Analytica used psychographic profiling by nudging people, based on their psychological profile, in ways which would manipulate their emotions to react in a specific way. He says, “There are certain triggers that will lead people to react irrationally. So, you might constantly be told that immigrants are going to steal your job, increase crime, and so on. The more of these messages you see, the more your subconscious is going to start to believe that immigrants are bad. That’s an example of psychographic profiling. The way it works is that you create a profile of somebody’s psychology by looking at how they respond to certain questions. Once you have that information, that profile, you can then target specific emotional responses, either through fear, or other behaviors that will make people behave in an emotional, irrational way. Generally, we try not to be irrational. We try to make decisions based on our mind, rather than our heart and feelings. Cambridge Analytica weaponized this in a particularly effective way, and social media became a very effective tool. We started to see, with Cambridge Analytica, that many millions of messages were being pushed out to certain demographic groups, to impact the elections in the US and UK. It was incredibly effective.”

Of course, the main platform through which Cambridge Analytica managed the psychographic profiling, was Facebook. By collecting data about Facebook users, they created specific messages to promote on their newsfeed. Of course, this data exploitation and psychographic profiling was something Facebook users were unaware of, and later made its way into court. Still, social media platforms like Facebook are still collecting data about their users.

The Articl8 Initiative

Alexander’s interest in digital privacy led the way to his work with Privacy International, where he stayed for three years. Towards the end of that time, he started working with companies who were focused on privacy-enhancing products and services. He saw that things weren’t handled the way he wished they would be in politics. He says, “I go to politicians and talk about human rights, and the tech industry goes to politicians and talk about economics. When this happens, we know which argument is going to bear the most weight, with regards to those politicians, and it tends to be the economic argument.”  

Around the same time as the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Alexander had several clients who were working in the privacy space. It occurred to Alexander that despite the fact that there were many industry and lobby groups in Brussels, they were all focusing on lobbying on the behalf of companies who were exploiting our fundamental rights. He says, “This emerging market of tech companies and services, who were focused on providing privacy as a unique selling point, didn’t have any representation. So, I thought that instead of working with these companies individually, it makes more sense to build an industry group. That’s where Articl8 was born.”

Alexander’s idea behind Articl8 is to give a voice politically to those companies who are working under the umbrella of data ethics, trying to provide privacy-enhancing products and services. He says, “It’s a growing market. Every year we see a significant number of new players coming into the space –Idka being one of them, along with Qwant, and many more. There’s a whole host of new privacy-tech services coming online now. They need representation, just like everyone else. Politicians make decisions based on the information they have available, so if the only information they have is coming from the tech giants and the advertising industry, then that’s the only information they can act on. So, if the pro-privacy players don’t  have a voice in this space, their messages will never be heard, and politicians can’t act on them. So, the idea behind Articl8 is to provide that ‘countervoice’ to the tech giants of the world, who are seeking to undermine our democracy and our fundamental rights. It’s important to have equality in political lobbying, and having that equal voice.”

We fully stand behind Alexander on this. It’s important to give a ‘countervoice’ to the actors who are violating our digital privacy rights. If you’re interested in taking part in this, we invite you to join #Privacy2020 – an open group for news and discussion around privacy for the new decade and beyond. If you’d like to hear from industry experts and peers, share your voice, or join the movement for the protection of privacy as a human right, simply sign up for a free personal account on idka.com and enter Privacy2020 in the search box.  Anyone can join!

We look forward to having you with us!