Remember everything that went down with Cambridge Analytica last year?
Here’s a quick refresh: Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting firm that tapped into data mining, data brokerage and data analysis which helped change the course of history.
Using more than 5,000 data points via Facebook, the company managed to orchestrate the exit of the UK from the EU and help elect Donald Trump and a host of other political candidates if you believe what ex-employees and Netflix’s The Great Hack showcase.
But, how did the company gain access to so much information about us?
It’s a lot easier than you think.
Have you answered a quiz on Facebook about your favorite food (or answer anything, really)? It all boils down to the information we provide when we engage in activities that require us sharing any sort of information.
Answers you provide get filtered and put into a pile of others who answer similarly and from there, generalizations are made based on the information. The idea is that people who think and choose alike will also do alike, which creates these data points.
Other companies have done similar to Cambridge Analytica, but were never able to hit the mark as well as Cambridge … this is because the company essentially cheated. They figured out that if they had information on one person, and that person spent time with another person every week, they assumed not only that there was a relationship there and therefore the individuals would align on certain things, but also accessed the accounts of the friends of anyone that answered these quizzes.
While they couldn’t tell our exact data points, they predicted what they would be and used relationships and behavior to access information about people. Again, even if you personally didn’t provide access, there’s a big chance that someone else answered a quiz or allowed their behavior to be watched online, opening up your data to the same scrutinization inadvertently. Creepy, right?
How can I know if my data is being accessed?
The scary thing about what Cambridge Analytica did is that people had no idea. If you’re playing free Sudoko online or using an app (like Siri), the data is being taken and used to curate a profile on you and your behavior.
Data is often taken from things we don’t think about but use every day like Alexa or our wearables. We’re literally giving our data to people without thinking twice about it and often are paying for the right to be tracked.
They’re also listening
Not only are we being tracked via apps, keep in mind your device has a microphone. Apps like Facebook are listening if your mic is turned on. They are using your geolocation. And, unless you turn off the mic (which means no more Siri or Alexa) or geolocation (goodbye, Maps), it will continue.
How can you protect your information?
To protect your personal information and access to data points for analysis, you actually have to stop giving information … and using programs which take it. Stop answering quizzes. Stop providing information to companies, turn off that geolocation, pay attention to what you agree to.
We’ve become apathetic to companies learning about us through our online actions and forget that this is actually a violation of privacy. We allow it to continue because — short of removing the programs and altering our lives — we feel there is little we can do.
If you start to take away a company’s power and join with other people and start to say “enough is enough” and educate our children that this is unacceptable, we can make change. Our children are the largest consumer group in history to be technology reliant — they can make this change.
This generation of kids need to be educated that they are the most powerful in history in regards to technology and we have the duty to empower them to protect their information, to understand what is happening with their information and encourage them to speak up to demand change.
We can fight back when we have knowledge. The more who understand data points, the more people can weigh in and say “stop.”
Are you ready to make a change?