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Personalization Technologies for Political Purposes & Privacy Implications

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Christopher Wylie

One of the leading tech giant Facebook is swimming in the hot boiling water with Congress not only over data privacy breaches, but over their role in the 2016 US presidential election.

It’s not a small data breach that we are talking about here –  approximately 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters.  That’s pretty much all, considering there are ~ 250 million people eligible to vote in US.

How is Trump’s Presidential Election linked with all of these?

The Trump campaign appointed Cambridge Analytica to run data operations during the 2016 election. Steve Bannon, who in due course became Trump’s chief strategist, was also apparently vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board. The company assisted the campaign to identify voters to target with ads, and gave guidance on how best to focus its approach, for example where to campaign, whom to target & what kind of messages to pursue the targets to have positive psychological impacts to vote for Trump. In other work they helped with strategic political communication using sophisticated data mining techniques.  In the process of doing this, Cambridge Analytica used Facebook ads & apparently acquired the user data in a way that dishonored the social network’s policies.

Here’s a short video from the horse’s mouth – Christopher Wylie:

* Side Information: Christopher Wylie’s tweets on India operations:

India

Other side of the coin:

It is still questionable if Cambridge Analytica’s proclaimed “psychographic profiling” successfully persuaded people to vote for Trump or implanted misrepresentation about the opposition candidates to bring about political outcomes or it was a mere co-incidence. There is not much evidence that the algorithm actually works with 100% accuracy.

Facebook didn’t directly sell any of it’s users information to Cambridge Analytica.  Having said that, $37 billion was wiped from the value of Facebook in one day and its share price is continuing to fall.  “Delete Facebook”, “Dump Facebook” & similar campaigns are still going strong.

Google surely knows lot more about us than Facebook ever will.  So does Twitter.  So turbulent times ahead for these tech giants as well.

Will these tech giants come out clean? I don’t know. Only time will tell. All I know is business is built on trust, and they are certainly losing public trust. The bigger questions for the policy makers to consider are privacy threats stemming from the use of sophisticated personalization tools for political purposes and identifying their impact on individuals and society as a whole.  I would like to end the post with this thought: “Power comes with great responsibility”

INFORMATION SOURCES & RELATED NEWS:

After Zuckerberg hearings, Congress broadens focus to Google, Twitter

All about Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and data mining

Cambrige Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie tweets details of India operations

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