Is bigdata analytics architecting a new political landscape?

In my last post arguing the case for personal data rights, I had indicated my plan to discuss “personal data as a currency” in my next post, however I have gotten somewhat sidetracked by an excellent piece of investigative journalism from The Guardian, entitled “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked“. I would recommend a very stiff drink before you read it, because it is one scary article and highlights some really concerning implications for the collection and analysis of personal data. However, as dystopian as it may appear, this is not a science fiction movie but paints a reality that we all need to become aware of.

The article uncovers links between the U.S alt-right, the Trump election campaign and the Brexit Leave Campaign in the UK, where both election campaigns used Cambridge Analytica & partners to help them win their elections. And why is this something to be concerned about? Well, according to the Guardian article, Cambridge Analytica is not some random startup but was actually born out of British and U.S defence establishments. What they do is not just about social psychology and data analytics, but has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. They have been extremely effective at using pyschological insights to micro-target voters and, once identified, to use a variety of opinion pieces to manipulate emotions to drive a desired electoral outcome. Facebook is one of the key sources of data for this pyschological analysis and also the primary communication channel through which people are micro-targeted and subsequently manipulated. The Brexit Leave Campaign apparently spent more than half of their entire budget with Cambridge Analytica & partner so they clearly had strong reasons for believing that they would get value for their money. And as we all know, they did indeed get the result they wanted. Whether it’s the right result for the country is a totally different question. David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”.

Now why did I want to talk about this article on my blog? Well, firstly because it reinforced this nagging concern I’ve had for a long time about the lack of transarency around analysis of personal data, and more specifically the actions that are being taken on these insights. And secondly, because it looked at this issue from a use case I hadn’t considered. My concerns regarding the use of personal data to manipulate people and lack of transparency, had been mainly focused on the consumer side of things where analytics is used to drive commercial activity. People can be targeted, when they are at their weakest, in ways that could damage them psychologically, emotionally, financially, or physically. For example; it can reinforce negative emotions or perceptions in order to convince them to buy products and services that they don’t need, can’t afford, or that are harmful to them.

However it appears that I’ve underestimated it’s potential. It turns out that this type of psychological analysis can in fact realize a much grander vision; which is less about micro-targeting individuals for ad-clicks and more about taking over the world. Over the last few months we’ve heard much talk about Russian interference in American and European elections, however this Guardian article suggests that maybe it’s not governments that are in the driving seat. Maybe it’s big business that is pulling the strings and architecting a political landscape that ensures that the balance of economic power continues to remain with the wealthiest 1%.

Or am I being melodramatic? Possibly? Although just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me :-)

2 Responses to “Is bigdata analytics architecting a new political landscape?”

  1. A good blog post from @GabrielaZanfir that goes into a deeper discussion of privacy implications of psychometric analysis in political campaigns, +1



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