Writing Rights Ltd
Director - Writing Rights
Colombian regulators have taken a firm approach to data misuse in the face of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, impending elections, and politicians accused of corruption and cartel links.
Last week, an app was blocked after revelations of collaboration with Cambridge Analytica (CA): Colombia’s commerce regulator blocked Pig.gi, its website, and its social media pages. The regulator announced that the app would be unavailable until investigations are concluded, as a “preventative measure, given the potential risk of a wrongful and massive illegal use of the personal data of thousands of Colombians.”
In the wake of the CA data scandal and claims of influencing elections worldwide, the stakes are high in Colombia: presidential elections are next month. Colombia is still listed on CA’s website as a location for work on “electoral strategy”.
Yohir Akerman, columnist at El Espectador, reported that three sources spoke to him of a relationship between CA and former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who is backing presidential hopeful Iván Duque. Uribe’s career has been spotted with allegations of corruption and alleged links to groups including the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar himself. Uribe denounced the accusations as “slander”.
“If you are not paying for it, you are the product” goes the truism of the month: with more than a million users across Colombia and Mexico, Pig.gi makes this model explicit. Users are given content options and opinion polls on their phone’s ‘lock screen’, and data on their engagement is anonymised and collected, in exchange for ‘pig.gi coins’ – top-up and internet access.
Pig.gi’s founder and CEO, Joel Phillips, said, “We want users to get a benefit from seeing advertising and giving their information.” But it seems that users may have been getting more than they bargained for.
Pig.gi announced their affiliation with CA last year, collaborating on “recommendations engines”. The group claim, however, that their database was never available to CA, and that all joint work has ceased: they are protesting the measure on Twitter using hashtag ‘#freepiggi’. CA still holds 1% of the company.
The app is still available in Mexico: no suspension or investigation of either Pig.gi or CA has been announced, despite Mexico having its own elections later this year. CA’s former director Alexander Nix was caught on camera joking that he was only going there to pick up ‘tequila and some tacos’, though the consultancy later acknowledged having opened an office in Mexico City.
Pig.gi’s user data has enormous value to political aspirants, given the electoral power of the millennial in both Colombia and Mexica. Pig.gi’s demographic could swing elections in either country: knowing how to reach them and press their buttons, and how to get them pressing their own, will prove invaluable at the polls.
The Colombian regulator requested cooperation from counterparts in the USA, UK, EU and Mexico, but no official responses have yet been issued.
This seems to herald a new era of data protection, forced in by the Cambridge Analytica scandal: an era potentially characterised by arbitrary and inconsistent interference, and marked by contrasts between extreme action like that of Colombia, and complete inaction, as seen in Mexico.
Pig.gi may be offline in Colombia for the foreseeable future, but the real wolf of the data scandal remains Facebook, whom no regulator has yet dared to block (despite extensive and serious allegations) and a model which depends on pursuit of profit via the sale of personal data.
However, given the estimated $80bn lost from market value since the CA scandal and the humiliatingly high-profile #DeleteFacebook campaign, perhaps the sheep’s clothing is, slowly, beginning to slip off.