Alagi Yorro Jallow

He who controls data is potentially as powerful as government. Information makes power. Government intelligence agencies are powerful because of their unhindered ability to collate, store and analyze both public and personal data.

Social media platforms can be considered as civilian versions of large global intelligence agencies, holding information that cannot be found anywhere else. That is where Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg derive their power. He who controls data, controls commerce and many politicians around the world are yet to come to terms with this reality.

The next battle ground is data privacy and how data contractors like Cambridge Analytica (CA) can exploit social media for political ends. I see many responsive houses of parliament around the world passing some Foreign Agent Act – like the one found in US statutory law, under which Paul Manafort is currently charged – to prevent foreign agents from “interfering” in local politics and elections.

Do not anticipate change in Africa soon. The political interests of Africa’s ruling class are well served by inadequacy in personal data regulation and ruthless negative social engineering, such as provided by Cambridge Analytica.

No Parliament in Africa has summoned Facebook or Cambridge Analytica. Reason? The main beneficiaries of Cambridge Analytica’s manipulation are those in power. Expedient political considerations aside, negative social engineering is dangerous for fragile African countries with deep class, clan and ethnic divisions.

That assertion by Zuckerberg, that users have “control” over their data is false. It is Facebook that has absolute control over a user’s data. As a user, you can only control snippets of your data that other users see. Even when you deactivate or “delete” your account, Facebook still retains your data for life. Control should include the ability of a user to dispose of one’s data, including permanent deletion.