Tell me, what you eat and I will tell you who you are – this famous quote by the French chef and artist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin came to my mind when I first heard about the company Cambridge Analytica. The company who claims they are able to evaluate one’s personality better than their friends – just based on the access to the person’s facebook page. This London-based company advised the Trump’s presidential campaign – and now states they were able to help him win the run, using their state of the art analysis. Welcome to the world of Big Data!
“Everything we do, both on and offline, leaves digital traces. Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every “like” is stored,” describes Hannes Grassegger in an article for web Motherboard.
The story of Cambridge Analytica goes back to 2012 when psychologist Michal Kosinski developed something called MyPersonality app. This platform enabled users to create their personality profile by means of filling out different psychometric questionnaires. Then Kosinski’s team compared the data with the “likes” people shared on their Facebook profile.
After many refinements of the modeling they came up with extraordinary results: “They were able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves,” describes Grassegger.
We usually do not think about what we “like” on Facebook. But showing the musicians we prefer, books we read or media we follow, we are providing companies such as Cambridge Analytica with very useful material for evaluation. Then it is just a matter for them of using/having powerful algorithms to focus their campaign on a specific audience. Theoretically, in the presidential campaign, this would mean that the advertising agency could only focus on a small group of undecided voters with a potential to support their candidate, not spending any money outside of potential electorate.
But as Leonid Bershidsky shows – it is not that easy: “Huge data sets are often less helpful in understanding an electorate than one or two key data points — for instance, what issue is most important to a particular undecided voter.” His small research shows that the level of analysis and targeting is not at all at the level as would suggest that the Cambridge Analytica strong statement claims.
At the moment, it does not look like that there is any company that powerful to win the presidential run. But the amount of data we are providing freely to the world is alarming. And no one can guarantee that at the time of the next US presidential run, there will not be a company able to win the elections just by means of precise targeting. That is something I am worried about. Big data might be powerful. By the way, have you heard that one of the biggest US e-commerce companies plan for the future is to have a drone with your order on the way to your house even before you placed the order? Guess how they know what you want…