What The Tech prefers to stay out of politics, but today’s story is linked to politics in a big way. You may have heard of the furore over a certain American President, and his alleged links to and possible collusion with a certain Russian President. Details have emerged that a murky and controversial company which has links to President Trump’s campaign – Cambridge Analytica – might have illegally accessed and used the Facebook data of more than 50 million people.
Cambridge Analytica is a company that apparently specialises in “psychrographic” data and profiling. It was hired by President Trump to help him win the 2016 US Presidential Election. We all know the Trump won that election. We all know that he’s now under investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller for possible collusion with Russia to rig the election.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Mueller requested data from Cambridge Analytica for its investigation. The company had amassed up to 5,000 data points on American adults (potentially all of them), and surveyed hundreds of thousands of people to find Trump supporters. The strategy worked. Its CEO Mr Alexander Nix said that big data had changed the way political messages could be delivered. They could essentially personalise and target specific messages to people. They could influence people in a way never achieved before.
But that’s not all. Facebook’s been dragged into it because it may have released data and information about 50 million of its customers without any consent. This practice is in contravention of an FTC decree. For their part, both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny any wrongdoing in the matter. Facebook said that it respected the privacy settings of its customers. Irrespective, the accusations from a whistleblower means that Facebook and Cambridge could now face investigation by the FTC. The penalties are nothing to sneeze at.
But what does this mean to you, dear Australia reader? Well, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports, Cambridge is looking at doing business here. We have a federal election coming up in 2019, and a very important state election towards the end of this year. That means Cambridge, and the highest bidding political party could be out for your personal data. They could even ask Facebook or Twitter, or any other company with which you have dealings, for that data.
So when you’re home and browsing through your social media feeds tonight, think about what you’re putting out there. Your face. Your family. Your life. Is this the sort of information that you’re happy to be used against you? Because it probably is being used on you now, with targeted advertisements. So really, think about what others know about you. You might be surprised at how well they do. How much do you value your privacy and the protection of your data?