British people's data privacy will be "hanging in the balance" after Brexit, former Cambridge Analytica staffer-turned-whistleblower Brittany Kaiser warned as the country leaves the European Union on Friday.
Kaiser said Britain would need to pass strong privacy legislation to protect its citizens once they are no longer covered by EU law, which will apply until the end of a post-Brexit transition period that ends in December.
"Data is the world's most valuable asset" yet users are "vastly unaware" of how their data is being sold and licensed to companies, Kaiser told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Many apps require users to sign terms and conditions giving the owners access to their contacts, photos, location, and even the camera and microphone on their phone, Kaiser warned.
"Even if you delete the app you can't get your data back", she said. "Your privacy is gone."
"With less regulatory infrastructure it's unarguable that people in the UK will be less protected".
British users are currently covered by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which protects all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches. But it is unclear what will happen after the transition period ends.
"It's still hanging in the balance whether the UK will still be subscribing to GDPR after Brexit or writing their own legislation," said Kaiser.
Such regulation is critical to prevent "future Cambridge Analytica scandals", Kaiser said, referring to her former employer's cross-Atlantic data privacy scandal.
With uncertainty around the terms of Britain's exit from the EU, she urged app users to take steps to protect their data.
"Start simple, read some of the terms and conditions of the apps on your phone and if you don't like them, delete them", she said. "Call your MP, tell them that this is an essential question that you want answered".
Kaiser urged Britain to retain protections similar to those of GDPR and to fight to be a part of the single data market the EU is planning to challenge the dominance of tech giants such as Facebook and Google.
Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the centre of a scandal involving data harvested via Facebook, assisted Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Leave campaign in Britain.
Kaiser testified against her former employer in the scandal which resulted in its 2018 shutdown, and has since founded the Own Your Data Foundation, which campaigns for increased transparency.
Once seen as engines of growth and innovators, tech giants have come under fire on both sides of the Atlantic for allegedly misusing their power and failing to protect users.
"Our data is the world's most valuable asset, we're the ones who created it and yet we have no rights over it", Kaiser said.
She also encouraged users to "make more ethical choices with your data" and use alternative chat apps, e-mail providers and internet browsers like DuckDuckGo or BraveBrowser over Google Chrome and Signal over WhatsApp.
"I wouldn't say that anything you write on WhatsApp is private at all," she said.
Source: Reuters (Thomson Reuters Foundation) 31 January, London
Reporting: Amber Milne & Zoe Tabary