The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy

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The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy, by former Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor, is a guide to how our personal data is being used to harm democracy.

This book is being made available to Hacked Off supporters with a special discount of 10% – claim yours by entering “HACKED10” in the coupon box at checkout.

By Kyle Taylor

How did we go from short, 180-character tweets to attempted coups in less than two decades?

How much data does Facebook really have on me?

Is my Amazon Alexa listening to me?

Powered by your personal data, social media has transformed our way of life, from how we get information, meet people and create increasingly siloed communities. Building on the already destabilizing impact that massive traditional media consolidation has had on our society, social media has become rocket fuel for an unregulated, unhinged press.

This has had a profound impact on democratic society. Our shared reality – the way we collectively understand the world – has rapidly been replaced by conflicting micro-realities that are often fueled by conspiracy theories, lies, and “fake news” legitimised in major newspapers and spread rapidly through social media. This is driven by a business model that supposedly gives us everything for free.

All we have to do is give up our personal data and privacy. If you aren’t paying for the product, then you are the product.

The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy demystifies these seemingly complex topics to help you understand how our very way of life is under threat and what you can do about it before it’s too late.

As the fight for statutory Leveson-based independent press regulation continues, so too must we demand similar for social media companies.

Below is an extract from the book itself. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to share this with you.

One of the greatest data scandals of all time

We’d been sitting in the lounge at a house party for forty minutes. “Come upstairs. We need to talk privately,” Chris Wylie said to me. It was November 2017 and five months later, Chris would publicly blow the whistle on how Cambridge Analytica had taken the personal Facebook data of over 50 million people without their consent. A week later, Shahmir Sanni would blow the whistle on how Vote Leave – the official campaign for Brexit in the UK – had broken election law. 

Chris and I had known each other for nearly six years, as we were both in the same small circle of progressive UK political activists and campaigners. On this cold winter evening, I thought he wanted to catch up in general as we hadn’t seen each other in years. Instead, I suddenly found myself being told in vivid detail about one of the greatest data scandals of all time. We agreed that night that his going public had to do more than tell a story – it had to be the catalyst for change. While he focused on laying the story out in the media, I would work on building the campaigning infrastructure necessary to bring about meaningful change.

As the story unfolded in the media, I published online a selection of the actual documents so the public could see for themselves how the law was broken and support continued lobbying for genuine reform. However, despite the efforts of the campaigners, whistleblowers, journalists, and lawyers, three years on almost no new laws have been passed to safeguard elections and protect our democracies.

Big Data

In 2016 I was working on a coordinated campaign in the US state of North Carolina during the Presidential Election. I had run two UK general election seat campaigns in 2010 and 2015 and would go on to run two more after the US President Election – in 2017 and 2019.

I’ve worked in and studied campaigns and politics for nearly twenty years, from big-picture strategy to helping to validate the first “big data” model in the UK. Politics was – and still is – my passion. I live and breathe its intensity, its possibility, and its importance. On a single day, every so many years, citizens in countries around the world have the opportunity to determine the future of their nation. It’s a right not afforded to every human and I’ve never taken it lightly.

I was at first hugely welcoming of the data revolution in politics. I saw it as an opportunity to understand people better so we could – as campaigners – talk to them about what they cared about. A tool that could get more people invested in their future, the future of their country, and, quite frankly, the future of the human species. I believed access to more information could only be a good thing. I was wrong.

The foundation was laid by the failings of hyper-capitalism that have left an entire generation poorer than their parents. It was built by people corrupted by power and fueled by business models that are incentivised by division and discord, underpinned by a largely unregulated, monopolistic print press. Access to more information – made possible by technology and so-called “social” media – has, in less than a decade, shifted the planet from a world existing in one shared reality to one that can’t even agree on the most basic truths. Feelings are conflated with facts. Facts can now be “alternative.” Whatever you “like” is true. Whatever you don’t like is “fake news.” The technologies that were meant to bring the world together have instead driven us deep into echo chambers where all we want to do – and all we can seem to handle – is to confirm and reconfirm what we wish was true, regardless of whether it is or not.

All with dire consequences for our mental health and wider society.

Over the last decade – like Murdoch and his peers – big tech bosses have ingratiated themselves with the political class and managed to convince the public that their for-profit businesses were somehow different from any other businesses aimed at maximising profit. Now, with so much market control and political influence, it’s difficult to see how we can take back control of our digital world. 2020 has led many to believe that the major tech companies are too big to fix – exactly what was said about traditional media. For the sake of humanity, that answer is, quite simply, not acceptable. The first thing we must do is fully understand the problem and start laying out practical solutions. I hope this handbook helps you do just that.

Kyle Taylor is the former Director of Hacked Off and Founder and Director of Fair Vote UK, which published whistleblower evidence of Vote Leave’s lawbreaking in the EU referendum and supported Chris Wylie’s whistleblower revelations around Cambridge Analytica’s global data theft and misappropriation. He is an expert on digital democracy reform and platform regulation.

Kyle was the Campaign Director and Chief of Staff to a UK government minister and has worked on half a dozen election campaigns in the UK and the USA, including the 2016 US Presidential Campaign and the 2020 US Georgia Senate Runoff. He is a graduate of American University and the London School of Economics.

The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy can be purchased at a special price for Hacked Off members at littleblackdatabook.com

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