Even before the company was in the news, their methods raised a lot of eyebrows amongst experts on data-driven campaigning, with one consultant claiming that “everyone universally agrees that their sales operation is better than their fulfilment product”.
Cambridge Analytica Explained: Data and Elections
Privacy International

This quote refers to CA’s claim that their way of profiling and targeting voters is significantly more effective than methods used by other campaigns. I’m not implying that microtargeting voters doesn’t work; of course it does — otherwise campaigns wouldn’t spend millions on it.

Take it from Google:

Voter decisions used to be made in living rooms, in front of televisions. Today, they’re increasingly made in micro-moments, on mobile devices. Election micro-moments happen when voters turn to a device to learn about a candidate, event, or issue.

While microtargeting is clearly invasive and manipulative, we need to be careful to not oversell the power of big data. This narrative is one of the reasons why companies and governments are collecting and processing massive amounts of data in the first place. In the words of Michal Kosinski, a Stanford professor, who was among a group of researchers that pioneered psychometrics predictions from Facebook likes:

“Obviously, it is not big data analytics that wins the election […] Candidates do. We don’t know how much his victory was helped by big data analytics.”

Again, this doesn’t make campaigns’ use of data any less of a privacy nightmare, or any less of a threat to the democratic process.