Privacy is non-existent , and decisions that seem to be our own are unfortunately not. There are in today’s world many companies that specialize in building“psychological weapons” that are then used to infiltrate the minds of people and subtly, but with great impact influence decisions that are of national importance. One such company is Cambridge Analytica.
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge analytica is a data analytics company, that specializes in strategic communication for electoral process. It was set up in 2013 as a subset of SCL Group.At its helm is Alexander Nix(now suspended due to ongoing investigation) who headed 44 such operations in various countries. Most famously Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Steve Bannon who was Trump’s senior advisor reached out to two hedge-fund investors prior to the presidential campaign ,Robert Mercer and Rebekah Mercer convincing them to invest close to $15 million into the company. During the course of Trump’s campaign Steve Bannon introduced the two sides.
What Cambridge Analytica Did
The company first needed data to work on to build the so called “psychological weapon” and the search to find the data they needed ended when they found Aleksander Kogen. He was an independent researcher who had built an app called “This is your digital life” which at its core seemed nothing more than just a personality quiz,but it used an algorithm that exploited a backdoor in facebook’s API leading to data being extracted at an unprecedented scale. The backdoor allowed the developer to not only request data of the players but also the friends of that particular player. Although only about 100,000 people played the game it had the enough players so as to harvest close to 50 million facebook profiles as it could also take the players friends data.
This data was sold to Cambridge Analytica using which algorithms were built that looked into the social behaviour of the person,creating a psychological profile. Cambridge Analytica not only had divisions that built these powerful algorithms but also entire teams that created the personalized posts and articles that the user would be exposed to, aiding in the subconscious persuasion of the user. This type of psychological profiling induced with targeted marketing is called “psychographic targeting”.
The algorithm could find out by looking into the persons data from Facebook as to what type of messaging would be most impactful, the exact framing of the message that would capture the users attention and also how many times the message had to be reiterated so as to change the users perception.
Facebook’s reply to the data breach.
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerburg had but no option than to accept to the data breach after being silent for 5 whole days after the scandal broke.The CEO also told during an interview that other apps that requested such large amounts of data during that period of time will be investigated and if satisfactory reasons are not given to substantiate the requests a full audit will be performed.
In conclusion we see that Facebook’s poor API’s allowed for developers to access large amounts of user data without showcasing a reason of request. The data even if obtained, according to Facebook’s policy must not be sold to any third party companies. Here again a strict violation of the policy took place. Dirty tactics were utilized to coax a large percentage of the American crowd which is grossly unethical.
We are uncertain how many elections were rigged in this manner. To think our decisions are not our own is what seems to be the biggest scare.