Big Brother/Big Data 2016

By on December 1st, 2016 in Blog Posts, Privacy & Security

The power of big data, AI/analytics, and subtle data collection are converging to a future only hinted at in Orwell’s 1984.  With the rapid developments on many fronts, it is not surprising that those of us who are only moderately paranoid have not been tracking it all. So here’s an update on some of the recent information on who is collecting individual profile of you and why:

Facebook (no surprise here) has been running personality quizzes that evaluate how your OCEAN score lines up. That is Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.  These “Free” evaluations are provided by Cambridge Analytica. The applications of this data to political election influence is documented by the New York Times (subscription required) and quoted in part by others. The short take is that your Facebook profile (name, etc.) is combined with your personality data, and “onboarding” data from other sources such as age, income, debt, purchases, health concerns, car, gun and home ownership, and more. Cambridge Analytica is reported to have records with 3 to 5 thousand data points on each of 230 million adult Americans — which is most of us.

How to they use this data? Psycho-graphic micro-targeted advertising is the recent target, seeking to influence voting in the 2016 U.S. election. They only support Republican candidates, so other parties will have to develop their own doomsday books. There is no requirement that the use of the quizzes be disclosed, nor that the “ads” be identified as political or approved by any candidate. The ads might not appear to have any specific political agenda, they might just point out news (or fake news) stories that play to your specific personality and have been test-marketed to validate the influence they will have on the targeted voter(s).  This may inspire you to get out and vote, or to stay home and not bother — depending on what candidate(s) you support (based on social media streams, or more generalize characteristics if you personally have not declared your preferences.) Impact: quite possibly the U.S. presidency.

But wait, that’s not all  on individual profile activities according to The Wall St. Journal:

The U.K is expanding its surveillance powers, requiring Internet companies to retain interactions/transactions for a year, including every web site you have accessed. This apparently is partially in response to the assertions by France that similar powers had foiled an ISIS attack in France. The range of use (abuse) that might be applied by the U.K. government and their allies remains to be seen (or more likely will remain hidden.)

What China is doing to encourage residents to be “sincere.” [Here is a serious limitation of my linguistic and cultural skills — no doubt there is a Mandarin word that is being used and translated to “sincere,” and that it carries cultural implications that may not be evident in translation.] Data collected to determine your “social credibility rating” includes: tax, loan, bill, and other payments (on time?), adherence to traffic rules, family planning limits, academic record, purchasing, online interactions, nature of information you post online, volunteer activity, and even “filial piety” (respect for elders/ancestors). And the applications of such data? So far 4.9 million airline tickets have been refused. Your promotion, or even job opportunities can be limited with “sensitive” jobs being subject to review — judges, teachers, accountants, etc. A high score will open doors — possible faster access to government services. By letting citizens see their score, they can be encouraged to “behave themselves better.”  By not disclosing all of the data collected, nor all of the implications, the state can bully citizens into far greater sincerity than they might adopt if they were just trying to not break the law.

Your comments, thoughts and responses are encouraged, but remember — they are being recorded by others for reasons you may never know.  … Sincerely yours, Jim

Also see: Can We Trust For-profit Companies to Protect our Privacy?