Cambridge Analytica: A Few More Alleged Factoids

July 17, 2018

It is 2018 and the 2016 US presidential election remain news. Nature wrote an interesting article that digs into the data used to target Facebook users: “The Scant Science Behind Cambridge Analytica’s Controversial Marketing Techniques.” It was revealed in March that Cambridge Analytica collected Facebook user data without consent and that was later used to send false news to voters. It involves something called psychographic targeting.

Psychographic targeting, in which psychographic marketing is based on, uses people’s personality traits to send them targeted information, such as ads. The scary thing is that psychographic targeting actually works, at least when it comes to shopping. Voting is a different matter:

“But these effects were small in absolute terms, points out Brendan Nyhan, a political researcher at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. And what works in consumer purchasing might not apply to voting, he says. “It’s surely possible to leverage personality information for political persuasion in some way, but, as far as I know, such effects are not proven or known to be of a substantively meaningful magnitude,” Nyhan adds. He points to other studies3,4,5 that suggest that political ‘microtargeting’ — sending specific kinds of messages to specific voters — has limited effectiveness.”

Cambridge Analytica might have built a model from the Facebook data, but no one is sure. In fact, no one is exactly sure how to even copy Cambridge Analytica’s methods. Some scientists are trying to reverse engineer the firm’s methods and a journalist and academic group is trying to get Cambridge Analytica to share its data.

Whitney Grace, July 17, 2018


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