Jewish, Gay, Russophile? EU DisinfoLab risks probe over abuse of French Twitter users’ data
The so-called Benalla affair that exposed Emmanuel Macron’s bodyguard not only occupied the political and the media world, but also sent shockwaves across the web. A study conducted by DisinfoLab, a Belgian NGO, from July 19 to August 3, revealed that more than 4.5 million French tweets were exchanged on the subject.
But the study went far beyond a simple quantitative analysis. The NGO is now being accused of politically profiling users into different camps, such as ‘pro-Mélenchon’, ‘pro-National Rally’ (National Front) and even ‘Russophiles’.
À ceux qui minimisent le #FichagePolitique de DisinfoLab, voici un extrait anonymisé des 2 fichiers qu'ils ont créés et diffusés.— Olivier Berruyer (@OBerruyer) August 10, 2018
Quelles que soient nos convictions politiques, nous devrions tous nous réunir pour lutter contre ça. C'est ce qui avait permis la création de la @CNILpic.twitter.com/FWpvHljCAv
The controversial NGO tried to deflect criticism of its methodology by sharing several files containing the raw data on 55,000 Twitter accounts they used in their research – succeeding only in making things somewhat worse.
One of the documents shows that account holders are referred to as being “gay,” “homo,” “lesbian” and “Jewish.”
Even though the intimate characteristics look like excerpts from users’ own Twitter bios, the social media community has called on authorities to take action, wondering if such classification is legal. Furious Twitterati also raised some questions about the social media giant’s practice and policies of collecting their information in bulk and sharing it with partners.
Many of those 55,000 included on the list already voiced concerns over the NGO’s profiling method with the National Commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL), whose mission is to ensure that data privacy law is applied to the collection, storage and use of personal data.
The Belgian PhD student Nicolas Vanderbiest, one of those who devised the study, stated that while his methodology “can be debated,” in his opinion any data on Twitter is "public data,” and therefore can be used for his study “to show communities by interactions.”
CNIL, however, noted that the “collection and processing of personal data” is subject to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and thus it will review all the public complaints within this framework.
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