The algorithm used in the Facebook data breach trawled through personal data for information on sexual orientation, race, gender – and even intelligence and childhood trauma
Public data has become a means of dispassionately looking at humanity for the purpose of exploitation and manipulation. The noteworthy discovery one can make from the original article is, how little it takes – just a few Facebook ‘likes’ – to establish some very telling characteristics of a person. The power to look at data in such great detail and make connections with seemingly irrelevant, other points of data could be the cornerstone of behavior modification. When large amounts of data are studied over time, surely consistent patterns can be found. When there is a large enough sample of data, reliable estimations could then be made about entire societies. This is important because societies provide the general environment in which individuals live. Once the relationship between societies and individuals could be understood with a degree of sureness, behavior modification could be done at a micro and macro level. This is extremely dangerous and gives unsurpassed power to the ones in control of such technologies, be they governments, corporations, or any other institution. The only defense a person has is a sense of awareness, but that too after a period of time will turn into paranoia.
Cambridge Analytica has come out with a statement in its defense. However, shifting the discussion from behavior manipulation to finer points of legality will be a great distraction. On a legal front, there may or may not be defensible positions. That will be an altogether different debate.
The more important issue, from which mankind, in general, should not take away its focus is the very practice of using information shared in innocence to modify the behavior of others.
To look at just Cambridge Analytica or Facebook as isolated examples would be as much a tendency as it would be a mistake. Other organizations are engaged in using information with the intention of expanding their businesses.
It is important to understand the process and know the kind of people who are behind such technologies. After all, they are the ones putting the intention in the algorithms! Should we be so enthused about the technology, or be so concerned with the legality of certain practices that we overlook the underlying motivations? The way social media has become so deeply integrated into everyday living, practically speaking, it is already too late to step away from all of this without severely disrupting all of human society and even individual lives. The connections are too deep already.