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The dangers of big data and how they can influence results.

July 26, 2017

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.​ 

 

One of the most enjoyable parts of the fallout from a big political upset is the victory dance of those who claim they brought it about. In the aftermath of Donald Trump's victory, a legend is being built around London-based Cambridge Analytica, which advised Trump's campaign using "big data" -- one of the most magical phrases in tech.  Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method which creates personal profiles of people based on their social media behaviour. In Das Magazin (December 2016) he described that they can predict, for instance, the skin colour of the user based on 68 Facebook likes with just a fault percentage of 5%. Stealth algorithms are continually judging what we are doing in order to categorise our skin colour, religion, sexual preference, etcetera.

 

This information is used by campaign teams to select people they can influence in areas where it matters. On one hand they show specific groups specific information which is beneficial for them and supports their candidate. On the other, they show information which is negative for the selected group and blackmails the opponent.  This tendency undermines the idea of information on which voters can choose their candidate on a valid and complete basis.

 

Currently, we have limited control over our digital world. The dominating companies are barely accountable and there is a lack of transparency and counter power. We may have to raise awareness and strengthen institutional structures like in our physical world in order to uphold a stable democracy.

 

 

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