Facebook’s privacy breach puts spotlight on Australian election campaigns

By Cameron Abbott and Georgia Mills

News of Facebook’s involvement in the United States’ elections is nothing new, especially with the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal, so it should come as little surprise that the social media giant has extended its reach into the Australian electoral sphere.

Facebook approached Australia’s major political parties during the 2016 Federal election offering a powerful data matching tool. This “advanced matching” tool would allow parties to match data they had collected about voters- including names, dates of birth, contact details, and postcodes- against similar information provided by users on their Facebook profiles. The combined data would allow parties to identify swinging voters and target them with tailored ads when they use Facebook.

Fairfax Media confirmed the advanced matching tool was offered to the Liberal Party during the 2016 election, but was turned down amid concerns that the sending of voter data to offshore servers could violate the Privacy and Electoral Acts. It is unclear whether Labor utilised the tool, with a spokesman stating that “a range of different campaign techniques and tools are used… including social media platforms like Facebook.”

This latest revelation comes amid ongoing concerns regarding Facebook’s provision of user data to third parties and raises important privacy issues. In addition to the offshoring of data, it is arguable that Facebook’s receiving of voter information, matching it with user profiles and then returning this data to political parties runs afoul of the primary purpose for which it was provided.

There are a range of bleeding edge data analytical services available that we regularly see used by large corporates, but extra caution needs to be applied to this rapidly expanding part of the technology landscape.  Individuals (not to mention the media) react negatively to this sharing and matching – it feels more … invasive.  Just because it can be done, does not mean it should be done, or that doing so will not have brand damaging, if not regulatory impacts, if executed poorly.  Analytics Services and their potential customers need to tread far more carefully than seems to have been the trend to date.






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