The Cambridge Analytica data breach shook the sentiments of millions of Americans. Raw data of about 50 million Facebook users was processed to be used in the Trump campaign. So how was data analytics used as a weapon in this outrageous scam? Let me explain you in brief.
The science of psychographic profiling was the major tool that was used to bring out actionable insights. Basically, profiling is a means of measuring an individual’s personality in a particular situation. It is not a measure of intelligence or ability – but of behavior. Apart from segmenting voters into groups based on gender, age, income, education, family size, etc. which is called demographics categorization, psychographics measured voters’ attitudes, interests, inclinations. This was then used to personalize the campaign by targeting people specifically based on their personality traits and lifestyle variables.
Cambridge Analytica with the assistance of two academics from the University of Cambridge made this possible. Aleksandr Kogan, the first, created an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ that offered Facebook users personality predictions, in exchange for accessing their personal data on the Facebook. Only about 2.7 million downloaded this app but Kogan received personal data of their friends as well, giving rise to a plethora of information of around 50 million users by considering average 200 friends of each test taker. The results of those personality surveys were then matched to the users’ actual likes on Facebook — and the likes of their friends — to build a model predicting personalities based on digital behavior. Kogan’s company eventually gave Cambridge Analytica a list of millions of people in the U.S., with their names, locations, genders, ages and predicted test scores.
On the other hand Michal Kosinki, a computational social scientist believed that reverse engineering could be used to extract personality traits from one’s Facebook activity, as minimum as his/her 300 likes. Whether a person likes puppies, sceneries, types of food can be used to predict someone’s religious orientation, political orientation, sexual preference, etc. He has, in fact, proved this in his research paper whose implementation is on https://applymagicsauce.com/
Kogan improved upon Kosinki’s ideas and sealed a deal with Cambridge Analytica. The British Consulting firm then worked meticulously to develop a variety of advertisements on different political themes such as immigration, the economy, and gun rights, all tailored to different personality profiles. Each user was shown individually tailored ads designed to stimulate the desired response. The response expected was whether to vote or not to vote a candidate.
Profiling a person has been around forever. Making a judgment based on how a person looks, his/her interests, interaction is human psychology. Even psychographics is no magic, it is computational mathematics. Given enough data and applying powerful algorithms, for the predictable aspects of your personality, psychographics will probably get it right most of the time but not all the time. The question arises is of the usage; the legality and morality associated with applications of these insights, tarnishing which led to the fallout of Cambridge Analytica.
It is, however, the future of psychographics that has a legitimate potential. It has the power to track individuals with symptoms of depression, fighting racial intolerance, resolving religious conflicts, etc. to make Earth a better place to live.
Rucha is a gregarious person pursuing engineering in Information Technology. She has worked as an editor for college magazines and a freelance technology journalist. She loves to explore technology and elucidate it to her readers from her writing. She believes that if science & technology is made available in lucid manner, it can be perceived as an art by all.