A friend shared with me an article that was both fascinating and disturbing.   It talked about how big data was used in elections to target potential voters with pinpoint accuracy.   Essentially, but combining data from social media sites like Facebook and things like online quizzes, companies can build an incredibly in-depth profile of you.

Kosinski and his team tirelessly refined their models. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced.

I’ve never been all that paranoid about my data.   However, I’d like to think I’m pretty skeptical in general.   I rarely click on sponsored ads, I never click on surveys, and while I do tend to post and share a lot, I think i can see through a lot of the attempts to manipulate me.   That said, I know that there are many people for whom that isn’t true.   Some people are more susceptible to beer commercials, and others have no idea the difference between a Google ad and a legit search result.  I can see how people would fall for these sort of things, especially when it isn’t necessary to get people to click on a link or view a video… all they need to do is see the image and read the tagline.  Marketing is powerful stuff.   And when you serve up something that you know will resonate with someone at just the right time, it’s even more powerful.

“Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven,” Alexander Nix remembers. On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook. The messages differed for the most part only in microscopic details, in order to target the recipients in the optimal psychological way: different headings, colors, captions, with a photo or video. This fine-tuning reaches all the way down to the smallest groups, Nix explained in an interview with us. “We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals.”

I strongly encourage you to read through the article.   And if you’d like to check out the chart I refer to in the podcast, you can find it here.

I would also highly recommend reading through this article as a followup.   Hat tip to Audrey Waters of Hack Education for sharing it.

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