The Creepiest Part of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal Can Be Summed Up in This 1 Sentence
The scandal illuminates just how easy it is for people to be labeled, categorized, and segmented.
We’ve all been in a debate on the topic of innovation when someone inevitably drops the famous Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
One side argues that business decisions should be made entirely on customer feedback; the other, armed with this quote, argues that true innovation is created by gifted visionarieswho use the forces of their prophecy.
But then came Cambridge Analytica, whose new quote I’m paraphrasing now shatters both sides of the debate: “I don’t need to ask people what they want, I just need to know if they’ve liked Lady Gaga’s Facebook page.”
If there’s anything you can learn from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s this: those with your Facebook data probably know you better than you know yourself.
A Vice investigation in early 2017, more than a year before the scandal recently made the headlines, highlighted how creepy an analysis of our Facebook “likes” can be. According to the investigation, an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user made it possible to predict their skin color, sexual orientation, and their political affiliation with at least 85 percent accuracy. Even intelligence, religious affiliation, use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, as well as whether someone’s parents were divorced could all be predicted.
And that’s not all — 150 Facebook “likes” were apparently enough to understand your personality better than your parents do, and 300 “likes” what your partner knows. More “likes” could even surpass what you know about yourself, according to the investigation.
Accurate deductions can be drawn from the types of likes, too: one of the best indicators for extroversion were followers of Lady Gaga, while those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts. Those that had “liked” cars made in the U.S. was a great indication of a potential Trump voter.
Not only can psychological profiles be created from such simple data, but it can also be used as a people search engine. For example, you could probably find and serve content to undecided Democrats based on makeup brand or musicians that they’ve “liked.”
There’s a lot that we can take away from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. For one, it has highlighted an important conversation about ethical practices in marketing and big data, and the debate around what, and to what extent, that data should be regulated. After all, Facebook said the only policy that Cambridge Analytica violated was sharing user data with a third part — not its access or analysis of it.
But it also illuminates just how easy it is for us to be labeled, categorized, and segmented based on what we might think are unsubstantial parts of our personalities.
We’re more than just Lady Gaga fans, aren’t we?
This article was originally published in Inc. Magazine but I’m publishing here so I can get better feedback. Please comment if you have thoughts or clap if this was interesting to you.