A look back at 2018

2018 was the year that Apple became the first $1 trillion company, Europe adopted the 261-page General Data Protection Regulation, and Facebook dominated the headlines with their personal data scandals. But what does all this mean and what can you do about it? At Tactical Tech we worked to investigate the impact of technology on society, through research, education, investigation and practical tools. Here are a few of the highlights from last year.


Our Data Our Selves illustration by Maria Kassab

Data is politics and politics is data
Last year saw the blurring of the line between the data industry and the world of politics, highlighted by the revelation that millions of Facebook users' personal data had been accessed and used by Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm who used it to build a software program to predict and influence voters in the US and UK elections. Building on the research that we began in 2017, we spent last year working with international partners to investigate the extent of this burgeoning political practice. Studies we commissioned and published from Kenya, Brazil, Malaysia, India and 10 other countries revealed that the use of personal data in elections is a global phenomenon with an entire market built around it. We researched and identified over 300 organisations who market themselves on using personal data for political gain, and investigated and explained several of their primary methods, including geo-targeting, smart TV and the use of WhatsApp in the Global South. Meanwhile as the #deletefacebook campaign kicked off, we created two guides to help people navigate how to increase their privacy on the platform, or leave. As a result of this project, we were invited to speak to the UK Parliament about digital campaigning. A report we co-authored for the Constitution Society, ‘Data and Democracy in the Digital Age’, outlines some of our recommendations, which we presented to The House of Lords in June. In addition, our UK country study gives some context to the significant increase in data-driven campaigning in the country since 2015.

An autopsy of online love
In May 2017 Tactical Tech collaborated with artist Joana Moll to purchase 1 million online dating profiles for 136€ from USDate, a company that trades in dating profiles from all over the globe. The batch of dating profiles we purchased included photographs, usernames, e-mail addresses, and the nationality, gender, age and detailed personal information about the people who had created the profiles, such as their sexual orientation, interests, profession, physical characteristics and personality traits. Purchasing this data exposed a network of companies that are capitalising on this information without the conscious consent of their users. This story attracted attention from media around the world. Our project revealed that the scale and scope at which our most personal data is being shared is much larger than people know.

Bringing privacy education home (so to speak)
Experts predict that in 2030 there will be an estimated 125 billion connected or ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices – that’s 14 for each person. Whether it’s an Amazon Echo, a smart toothbrush or a self-propelling baby stroller, these products are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives. Last year we updated our pop-up exhibition ‘The Glass Room Experience’, with support from the Mozilla Foundation, to address the trend toward an IoT-dominated world and its implications for data and privacy. Nearly 100 portable exhibitions were set up around the world: in a train station in Helsinki, at the Library Federation in Kuala Lumpur and with the help of a 12-year-old student in The Hague who wanted to change attitudes towards technology among young people and parents. Through our continuing public education campaign we were able to engage 65,000 people in a conversation about the importance of online privacy.


The Glass Room Experience at Helsinki Metro Statin.

A gender-focused approach to privacy and digital security
Every day, women face the consequences of online harassment and hate speech as a result of their gender identity and their environment. In this context, Tactical Tech has spent the last four years working on giving women, specifically in Latin America, the technical skills and practical know-how to teach one another and create their own networks. The 213 women we trained went on to reach a further 5,440 women in their own communities. The Gendersec Training Curricula enables this network to keep spreading by providing over 20 topics and resources for workshops themed around privacy and digital security from a gender perspective. Our report on Online Harassment, published last year, analyses what is being done to tackle this problem and offers a series of recommendations. In its fourth and final year, the sustainable resources that came out of this project will allow an evolving community to continue making a unique contribution to women’s rights.

Anyone can be an investigator
In an era of increasing occurrences and accusations of “fake news,” it can be hard for journalists, civil society organisations and others to keep up with the speed at which misinformation currently travels. Our aim in 2018 was to turn investigation into a wider form of civic engagement by making available the knowledge and skills that can be used to collect and verify evidence. To kick start this goal, we ran a 12-day residency in Montenegro with a group of practitioners in the field. In 2019 we will launch the outcome of this work so that anyone with curiosity, passion or a motivation for change can develop the skills they need to search successfully for the truth.


_This work has been possible thanks to the work of our partners, team, board and community of practitioners. Strong partnerships with likeminded organisations are important to us. That’s why in 2019 we’ll be selecting 30 organisations from a public call out, to collaborate with us. Take a look through In the Loop to see what we’ve done and what we’re up to in the future. _