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The Great Hack: Cambridge Analytica

Recently, I was suggested to watch the Netflix documentary The Great Hack. On Election Day, It was a good coincidence. This document describes how Cambridge Analytica worked and how its extreme data collection was used to target voters in the United States and the United Kingdom. The formula was simple. They mined our data, our friends’ data, and the people we connected online with. The data was then sold to the highest bidders, with a comprehensive plan to attack voters with the message the buyer wanted.

Cambridge Analytica boasted in numerous secret interviews about its ability to get voters in key regions of the country to do what they wanted. They say they were able to attack voters with propaganda because they had access to more than 5,000 data points for each individual. They used it to create personal profiles and distorted their thinking.

It’s unethical at best, but there’s a lot of debate about whether it’s a criminal (in the UK it turned out to be a criminal and the company was closed). Last but not least, it’s a massive intrusion on our privacy. Even if you give it voluntarily.

How Did They Steal Our Data in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Cambridge Analytica made use of multiple social platforms but Facebook was the gold mine that made this possible.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We took the quiz, clicked Update Status, linked the likes to our profile, and basically shared the personal information we have. Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica used all of this to make money.

Even if you didn’t fill out these quizzes or “harmless” personality profiles, they collected data about us when friends received them. Cambridge Analytica used this data to determine who was “convincible”. These were people who were not clearly visible on either side of the problem. We then sold this data along with the campaign to send ads to these people and take them to a party to pay for them.

Professor David Carroll was very disappointed to find out how his data was used. He thought that the company was based in the United Kingdom and would hire a lawyer there to ask Cambridge Analytica to return his data. His proceedings spurred the company’s investigation.

The Suit of Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal

David Carroll is an associate professor at Parsons School of Design and teaches media design. He was already working on data mining. What bothered him was the lack of control over his online data points and his children’s data points.

After filing the proceeding, Professor Carroll waited. There have been many hearings in the UK, and further operations by many companies have been repeatedly revealed. The documentary itself is much deeper than this blog, so I highly recommend checking it out.

In the end, the courts of the United Kingdom upheld Professor Carroll and made it a criminal offense. This meant that Cambridge Analytica had to return the data. From the research I did, they still seem to have to keep it.

Should We Own Our Data?

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

The general consensus is that data mining is at best unethical and, at worst, illegal. Many are still being discussed. What is the legality of the data about us? Do we need to own our data as we own our property? There are many experts who say that we must own our data. Meanwhile, courts are still finding applicable ways to protect us.

Unfortunately, you cannot remove yourself from the internet. Even if you remove all social media platforms, abandon the Internet, and remove your mobile phone, trusted companies continue to use these services. Direct debit or credit purchases are also registered as data points. Our data is there. But we are not helpless.

Limiting Sharing

You can limit the amount of data you share with people. Blocking social media platforms, disabling website cookies, and disabling tracking are all methods to reduce the amount of the data you share. Also, you must stop doing Facebook quizzes. You need to be really careful about quizzes and different third-party apps. Read the terms and conditions please, the quantity of data you give them is horrifying.

Be Careful

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

The overall goal of Cambridge Analytica and similar companies is clear. They want to know us more. They know how to target ads that elicit emotional reactions by profiling people. They use this to manipulate us to vote for candidates and buy products.

It is difficult to believe that we have been manipulated. But that’s exactly what’s happening. But this is the control we have and we can look at whatever comes in. Do you remember returning to school when the teacher advised you to believe only solid and factual evidence? That’s the approach we need to bring to the web right now.

This blog post itself may confuse you. I’m not here to offend you. However, it is my responsibility to remind myself of how to be secure online. When talking about Cambridge Analytica, data mining and filtered reality are just as important as teaching you how to find phishing emails. Ultimately, common sense and clear thinking can prevent you from being hacked.

So, the next time, when you surf social media websites, if you see something that can manipulate your thoughts, it is better for you to be doubtful to some degree.

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