Cambridge Analytica and Digital Politics

04 April, 2018

Cyber Security & Technology

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal furore has been in the spotlight at political spectrum and media, recently. To make a long story short, psychology professor Dr. Aleksandr Kogan University of Cambridge developed an app named “thisisyourdigitallife” back in 2014, presumably supposed to offer a personality prophecy. The app had drawn the personal information of about 270,000 direct app users and 50 million from their respective friend circle of user’s Facebook. Ostensibly, Dr. Kogan sold this information to Cambridge Analytica (CA) without prior consent of the users, a British political consulting firm, the allegation had denied by the CA.                                                                                                                                         

But, the Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, a data expert and co-founder of CA, claimed in media interviews and during his testimony to the UK parliament last Tuesday, CA used the Facebook data and psychographic techniques to influence potential swing voters of the Donald Trump’s presidential and Britain’s Vote Leave campaign and Wylie had also stressed result of these events would had been different if there were not cheating. Palantir Technologies, a big data analysis American company which supported the Trump’s election campaign admitted the involvement of its employee in a personal capacity with CA from outright prior denial of any engagement. In response to the questions from the Observer, Brexit whistle-blower named Shahmir Sanni made the allegation of a £625,000 donation from Vote Leave was channelled to the digital services firm, AggregateIQ (AIQ)-a company with links to Cambridge Analytica.                                                                       

In this process, CA and associated firms used two major methods to influence the electorate. First, psychographic profiling of based on likes and dislikes of user’s in social media had been hacked and in second phase the technique of ‘microtargeting’ was used for creating digital media content to influence especially targeting undecided voters in favor of particular political campaign. However, some researchers doubt about the level of psychographic microtrageting, there is the greater need of exploration about its linkages with the two of the major political events of recent year’s victory of the Trump and the Brexit, which were regarded as the end of the end of history by many political scientists. Any largely proven concrete evidence, Cambridge Analytica data analysis supporting in the favor of these events will be the another episode of crumbling liberal democracy in digital era.  Moreover, India National Congress and BJP were accusing one-another for their relation with Cambridge Analytica. CA had also involved in controversial election campaign in Kenya and Nigeria. Digital politics is really expanding its horizon.  

The metaphoric portrayal of the personal data as the ‘new oil in contemporary world’ and ‘new asset class’ resembles the increasing values of the data. Like oil becomes heart of the industrial economy, data is increasingly becoming the heart of information economy.  Ericsson forecasted that 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 and millions of personal information is being shared in digital platform daily.  WikiLeak founder and publisher, Julian Paul Assange, claimed Facebook as a "spy machine" for US Intelligence and the users are creating "world's most comprehensive database", similar the case of the other big tech companies like Google and Yahoo. So, how far user’s are safe and be ensured that there information is not misused is the big question.                              

Nonetheless, most of the countries have guaranteed right to privacy constitutionally, these sorts of incident depict the high probability of undermining the trust and the confidence of the users. Preserving and promoting the healthy personal data ecosystem mainly demands privacy, data security and integrity and essential regulation for data protection and liabilities. Effective utilization of data will support in right formulation and execution of policy and trigger the socioeconomic development.              

In one hand, the flooding of the information and opinion is impeding the notion of logical discourse in different political, economic, social and other issues. On the other hand, injecting personal thought process by the precise piece of information with the support of illegal profiling of individual user data is breaching the democratic practices. Conspicuously, technological evolution has brings the tectonic shifts in our political, economic and social life. At the same time, to meet the emerging daunting challenges combination of political reform related to digital data breaches, technological advancement with security updates and high level of user’s awareness all should be in place.