Feb. 4th, 2017

The Internet, large corporations (even brick-and-mortar stores), your credit card companies, etc. are all collecting and selling your personal information. Other companies are buying that information, aggregating it, and using it to build a detailed psychological profile of you. That profile, in turn, is being used to target you with fine-tuned, individually-tailored ads and political messages.

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.​

The end result, in at least one recent political race of consequence:

From July 2016, Trump's canvassers were provided with an app with which they could identify the political views and personality types of the inhabitants of a house. It was the same app provider used by Brexit campaigners. Trump's people only rang at the doors of houses that the app rated as receptive to his messages. The canvassers came prepared with guidelines for conversations tailored to the personality type of the resident.

Trump's data-driven approach meant that his people were able to focus on the people that mattered most—the bystanders most receptive to his message. (Compare this to Clinton's failed model-based approach to campaigning.)

Liberal organizations can learn from this—these are powerful tools, and they're available to anyone with the budget. How many receptive bystanders in swing states could we have recruited to vote for Clinton if we had been paying attention to the data?

Individuals can learn from this, too—when you use those loyalty cards, or when you "Like" that post, you're making it just a little bit easier for a stranger, armed with a bunch of data about you, to change your mind.

— Des


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August 2018

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