Revealing The Truth Behind The Cambridge Analytica Scandalby Opinion Express March 23, 2018 0 comments
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is much more than a mere data leak. Finding this scandal a bit puzzling, a number of political reporters in India, especially those who have three decades experience in covering elections, did a little digging. It appears that Cambridge Analytica scraped, that is illegally acquired information of 50 million Facebook users in the United States.
This has gotten privacy activists, including the ‘destroy the Aadhaar’ crowd, up in arms about privacy and user rights and what not. But data, particularly user information, in itself does not matter for much — it is how Cambridge Analytica studied that information and used it for their clients that made all the difference. The advent of supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse thousands of pieces of information has led to what marketers call ‘Big Data’. AI can analyse trends over millions of users and transactions, and can immediately red-flag any anomalies. This is what the tax authorities across the world are increasingly doing; and because linkages can be easily established, big data can go after tax evaders. It can also be used to better map traffic and population dynamics, helping city planners and policy makers. But AI can also be used to analyse the sentiments of users and drive them to a particular position or cause by feeding them information. This is not only limited to politics. Have you ever wondered why an e-commerce site often knows exactly what you want to buy and suggests it to you? Or when you do a series of searches, sometimes, a large search engine will suggest precisely what you are looking for. Suppose you are searching for a vacation, a search engine might already know your details without you ever explicitly informing them. Your information has already been put into various buckets. This can be creepy at times, there was a case of an e-commerce site knowing that a woman was already pregnant before she knew, based on her purchases. Another person was puzzled that a website knew that he wanted to acquire a dog without his even talking about it to anyone. AI makes large-scale behavioural analysis possible and when everyone puts their information onto a site, such as Facebook, it can easily be manipulated.
But in Indian politics, politicians and political managers have always had information. Electoral lists could and would be manually analysed for caste and economic data. Before the age of social media, local party workers often knew which buttons to press during campaigning. Social media and vulnerable data storage makes it much easier, AI removes the need for a comprehensive party machine, although not totally because the ‘get out the vote machine’ still needs to operate. That said, young voters with short-term memories and easily excitable have been manipulated by AI driven insights on often illegally acquired data. Have you wondered why so many strange electoral decisions have been made across the world? From Greece to Austria, from the US to New Zealand, AI is making it possible to better analyse data. The BJP and the Congress are both being hypocritical if either of them emerge as the party of ‘data protection’. This is a problem across the world and a global solution has to be found. But when power and politics get involved, it is doubtful if anything will be done, 2019 will still be a big data and AI driven election. Machines are truly taking over democracy.
Courtesy: The Pioneer