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Harry Halpin Says AI Interference in Elections Warrants Privacy Protection

Last Updated March 6, 2024 3:35 PM
Teuta Franjkovic
Last Updated March 6, 2024 3:35 PM
By Teuta Franjkovic
Verified by Peter Henn

Key Takeaways

  • There are rising concerns around the integrity of democratic processes, exacerbated by the complexities of AI.
  • The exploitation of private data has evolved with advancements in technology.
  •  Nym’s Harry Halpin emphasizes the need for privacy protection to safeguard democratic values.

On Valentine’s Day, Indonesia’s citizens participated in an unprecedented global democratic wave . More than four billion people could vote across 60 countries in 2024, marking a record year for general elections worldwide.

This heightened global electoral activity raised concerns about the integrity of democratic processes amid emerging threats, including that posed by artificial intelligence (AI).

Global Elections Amidst Rising Concerns Over AI and Data Privacy

The shadow of past events, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw private data from 87 million Facebook users harvested without consent , loomed large. Since then, the introduction of technologies like Apple’s Vision Pro and platforms such as ChatGPT led to an unparalleled level of personal data collection and potential misuse.

In light of these developments, CCN interviewed Harry Halpin, the co-founder and CEO of Nym Technologies.  Halpin shared insights on how AI could influence genuine democratic engagement. He also offered guidance on safeguarding against the potential manipulation of democratic values.

CCN: In light of the vast amount of personal data being exploited by companies today, how do you assess the current landscape of digital privacy and its implications for democracy?

Halpin: Currently, digital privacy is a relatively unexplored and underfunded area. The reason is twofold. First, the current Web 2.0 is based on a surveillance-based business model , which includes both advertising and selling user data. Second, it is naturally harder to develop privacy-enhanced and secure technologies, which is one reason they were not part of the original Web and Internet. This means the Internet and Web cannot be easily used for democratic purposes, including e-voting, but is instead used for behavior prediction and control.

Evolving Data Exploitation and AI Threats to Democracy

CCN: Reflecting on cases like Cambridge Analytica, how has the exploitation of private data evolved with advancements in technology like Apple’s Vision Pro and AI platforms such as ChatGPT?

Halpin: I was surprised people were even surprised by Cambridge Analytica . It was common knowledge that Facebook was abusing its user data at the time. I do not consider people like Brittany Kaiser to be whistleblowers, unlike Edward Snowden, who revealed top secret information and US government mass surveillance by the NSA. Likewise, it should be completely unsurprising that Apple VisionPro is tracking users – even their eyeballs – and ChatGPT is recording and selling the conversations their users are having, which many users would consider private.

CCN: With the upcoming elections in the US and major European countries, what new vulnerabilities do you perceive in the democratic process due to AI and data mining?

Halpin: Data mining – another name for machine learning or AI – will be used to target advertising and to modify voting behavior. This is used in both the US and Europe by all parties. For example, it should come as no surprise that David Recordon , who invented the Like Button, worked for the Obama Administration after leaving Facebook.

So we should expect subtle changes in algorithmic feeds on platforms like Facebook in order to influence voting behavior . This is dangerous because it’s hard to detect, even by experts. The entire purpose of algorithmic data-driven targeted advertisements – which are often not declared as such –  is to subconsciously influence behavior, which is just considered mind control. 

CCN: Can you discuss the potential impact of AI-driven misinformation campaigns on voter behavior and election outcomes?

Halpin: There has always been propaganda, but we can expect increased polarization due to behavior manipulation. I would say all sides will launch misinformation, both Biden and Trump. A quick look at the situation around Israel and Gaza shows the tremendous problems around detecting misinformation. The problem is that one person’s misinformation is another person’s objective news. No blockchain technologies we have seen are mature enough to help right now. 

A Decentralized Mixnet Solution for Enhanced Online Privacy

CCN: What proactive measures can individuals take to protect against privacy invasions and distortions in the democratic process?

Halpin: The first step is using a VPN, such as our upcoming NymVPN or Tor. The second is using open-source software like Linux rather than Windows and Max, and keeping the software updated. The third is to use two-factor authentication. Then I would recommend using software like Signal for messaging and avoiding centralized crypto exchanges. 

CCN: What steps should governments and international bodies take to ensure the integrity of elections in the digital age?

Halpin: Governments should ban surveillance and targeted advertisements. Surveillance and data-driven advertising are just as dangerous as nuclear weapons. Governments should mandate privacy-enhancing technologies. 

CCN: How do you envision the future of privacy technology in mitigating the risks posed by AI and big data to democratic institutions?

Halpin: All technology should be privacy-enhanced and respect basic rights, just as cars have seat belts nowadays. While almost all blockchain-based voting schemes are scams or failures, there is well-explored academic literature in using mixnets for electronic voting. Blockchain-based integrity checking of data provenance can distinguish generated AI from content generated by humans. 

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