The Guardian tells us that Cambridge Analytica was the Chernobyl of privacy. Which could well be true even if that’s not what The Guardian actually means. What they do mean is that it was some appalling, earthshattering, event which should entirely and completely remake our world. When actually Chernobyl was a bad nuclear accident that affected very few people. Certainly, it killed directly fewer people than a minor dam collapse and we don’t normally tend to think of hydro power as being existentially dangerous. And do note that the worst ever dam disaster killed about as many as actually letting off an atomic bomb or two not just a reactor going up in flames.
So, they’ve rather got to choose here, what is it they mean?
Cambridge Analytica was the Chernobyl of privacy
For years, privacy advocates and scholars were waiting for some sort of “privacy Chernobyl.” After more than a decade of trying to focus attention on the growing threat of massive corporate surveillance, we began to wonder if it would take a massive meltdown of personal data ending up in the wrong hands for legislators, regulators, and the general public to take notice and take action. We also knew that behemoths like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and up-and-coming troublemakers like Uber were gathering up as much personal data as they could and deploying it in invisible ways.
OK, yes, Chenobyl melted down. The number who died directly being something a shade under 50. That’s fewer than that Brazilian mine tailings dam collapse a few weeks back. And the best estimations we’ve got of all happened and to happen deaths is up in the few thousands level. Fewer than would have been killed perhaps by the fumes of the equivalent amount of coal burning. Possibly even fewer than would have fallen off roofs while trying to install the solar to generate as much power.
If this is what they mean Cambridge Analytica is then fine, we’re with that. A vast amount of noise and furore amounting to not very much? Sure.
If they mean that Cambridge Analytica is important then they’re going to have to use a different comparison, aren’t they?