It has been reassuring to see the news headlines about investigations in to the illegal use of personal data by leading people and organisations.
However, it is unlikely that this kind of behaviour will stop. Curtailing the activities of a company or two will simply result in others adopting the same unethical behaviour, but hiding it better or skirting the law better. Our systems show that when we are caught, we improve our deception so that we don’t get caught again. Or we pay off the authorities. This is clearly evidenced by the lack of reform in the banking sector in the past decade.
Sharing users’ data might not even be considered illegal – it’s quite clear that it’s been going on for years. (Have a look at the extract below from How to Get Rich and Famous which discusses the original algorithms developed by Kosinski.) The concern being highlighted is that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica was caught on camera offering to bribe and blackmail. The abuse of private data is becoming acceptable as we all turn a blind eye to the gratuitous relationships we have with social media platforms and search engines.
Instead, we must each care enough to change our own behaviour.
So here is some advice from the BBC on protecting yourself, if you can’t bear to leave Facebook, Google, Microsoft et al:
What can users do to protect their information?
This will mean that you won’t be able to use third-party sites on Facebook and if that is is a step too far, there is a way of limiting the personal information accessible by apps while still using them:
There are some other pieces of advice too.
“Never click on a ‘like’ button on a product service page and if you want to play these games and quizzes, don’t log in through Facebook but go directly to the site,” said Paul Bernal, a lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law in the University of East Anglia School of Law.
“Using Facebook Login is easy but doing so, grants the app’s developer access to a range of information from their Facebook profiles,” he added.
The Power of Psychometrics
(extract from How to Get Rich and Famous)
Most people rely upon Google, Facebook and Microsoft. These massive, monopolistic organisations know everything about you and are controlled by the elite plutocracy. They know everything about you because they observe all the choices you make using their product. Those choices comprise a significant amount of the choices you make and directly inform the way you think. This information is a resource which is sold to organisations which want your money, time or opinion and it is used by them to influence you. The consequence of using these monopolies is that opinions are narrowed, rather than broadened.
To those who say “Yeah but, they don’t care about me – they see millions of users and trillions of data a day, so it doesn’t matter”, they do care and it does matter. The data is processed and used to send individuals messages specifically geared to their psychological profile. Psychometrics, or psychography, pioneered by Michal Kosinski, is the science of analysing people’s behaviour from their digital footprint, including online behaviour, credit card purchases, mobile phone location mapping.
How powerful is this technique? In 2012 Kosinski demonstrated that with 10 “likes” his model could appraise a person’s character better than an average coworker. With 70, it could “know” a subject better than a friend. It could predict: skin colour (95% certainty), sexual orientation (88% certainty), Democrat or Republican (85%), and more: level of intellect; religious affiliation; alcohol-, cigarette-, and drug use could all be calculated. Even whether or not your parents stayed together until you were 21 could be teased out of the data.
With 150 likes, the model can know you better than your parents. With 300 likes, Kosinski’s machine could predict a subject’s behaviour better than their partner. With even more likes it could exceed what a person thinks they know about themselves. And in 2016, a leading company in the field, Cambridge Analytica, helped craft the online strategy that facilitated Brexit and Trump’s victory1.
So yes, they do care and it does matter. Monopolising access to a person’s online data and analysing it, which is what you agree to when you use Google, Facebook or Microsoft and many others, yields insights that can be undermine your own awareness of yourself and influence your behaviour without you realising it.