Learn From Mistakes: A Historical Lesson

Written by Cameron Vellacott

Many people say, tomorrow is a new day. Lets turn over a new leaf. However, chances are whatever has happened, will happen again. That is certainly how things are currently looking in the current privacy climate. Julian Assange set the precedent for privacy with WikiLeaks, but in the wake of the unprecedented Cambridge Analytica scandal, its set to go to another level.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal revolves around the alleged data mining of peoples’ Facebook profiles and private information, as a means for political purposes. Basically, Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy firm that used data mining, analysis and brokerage, used Facebook users’ data to help feed pro-Trump messages into peoples’ feeds. Cambridge Analytica allegedly formed psychographic traits using the data of 50 million users, which helped form software to implement more widely across American Facebook users. Not good. It is an unethical breach of privacy, and tampering with the fabric of society. The scandal is important because it is using sensitive data to generate software which will directly force the political agenda of the company unto Facebook users of certain personality traits. This is highly unethical, though not currently governed due to the nature of the internet.

This might seem unprecedented, and in some aspects it is. However, through a wider lens, there have been similar incidents throughout history. One, which is particularly similar to the case, is the Treaty of Versailles and the aftermath of World War 1. The aftermath of World War 1 can be broken down into three significant events which can be applied to the current Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Paris Peace Conference (Treaty of Versailles), Woodrow Wilsons fourteen point plan, and the League of Nations. These events can be a way of teaching our current leaders whom have been tasked with dealing with very modern privacy issues, in what goes wrong and how truly wrong it can go.

The Paris Peace Conference can be likened to the current High Court Case which Mark Zuckerberg has been involved in. An issue which involves the world, and is being settled to ensure no such events will happen again for the better of humanity. Countries do not want privacy breaches and democracy interference, just as David Lloyd George (UK Prime Minister) did not want the threat of the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea.

The results of the treaty set a dangerous precedent; one, which with the benefit of hindsight, they might regret. The punishments on Germany impacted civilians and soldiers alike, not differentiating the two. Reprimands were to be paid, and in turn it caused hyperinflation during the period of the Weinmar republic. Children were playing with stacks of German currency (Reichsmark) as if they were Lego bricks. “As more banknotes were sent into circulation the value and buying power of each Reichsmark decreased, prompting sellers to raise prices. In 1918 a loaf of bread cost one quarter of a Reichsmark; by 1922 this had increased to three Reichsmarks. In 1923 the market price for bread spiralled, reaching 700 Reichsmarks (January) 1200 (May) 100,000 (July) 2 million (September) 670 million (October) and then 80 billion Reichsmarks (November). Eggs followed a similar pattern. One dozen eggs cost half a Reichsmark in 1918 and three Reichsmarks in 1921. In 1923 the market price increased to 500 (January) then 30 million (September) and four billion Reichsmarks (October).”  

German children playing with bank notes (Getty Images)

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States at the time, made a speech which is now referred to as his Fourteen Points, delivered on the 8th of January 1918. It was mostly about freedom, land agreements, and restoring the damages of the war, except the fourteenth point , which reads… “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” The general association of nations would become The League of Nations (LON), a precursor to the United Nations, and had the goal of preventing the atrocities seen in World War 1. The LON was obviously a failure however, due to some key reasons that are relevant to Cambridge Analytica. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll draw on two reasons which are best applicable. 1)Nnon-involvement of major countries (USA), and 2) the lack of power to act on any wrongdoings. The League of Nations fell apart unofficially in the early 1930s when they didn’t act on Hitler’s expansion of German forces. He was setting up for war, and they did nothing. As well as this, the USA were not a part of the LON due to a senate vote not in favour of joining. Missing a global superpower, creates a lack of power.

Zuckerberg testifying in front of US Congress was a moment in history that could have monumental repercussions for the online world. The way the media behaves could also be savage, taking the mantle from the Assange case.

For the online world, media included, there must be a learning curve from our history surrounding the depression years. An international council, perhaps a branch of the UN, should be formed to make security decisions and work as a unit to solve problems that could in turn affect billions. Collating personal data doesn’t discriminate, which is why countries like Russia, or China, should all work in unison. Otherwise, we could end up in a dystopian society where an online version of a German takeover could be imminent. It mightn’t have the physical implications, but socially, culturally, it could tear everything apart. Lets not become an Orwellian novel. Work together as a world, not western and eastern. Learn from history. Make a brighter future.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: