The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Privacy? Heh

Just a little more than 6 years ago, the media waxed poetic about the ultra-modern data gathering and analysis operation that was mounted by the Obama campaign for the presidency. We were told how Obama's people hired the best and the brightest to mine information about "every voter" so that the campaign could "target" its message occordingly. In glowing terms, we were informed that big data (the term was barely invented at that time) and corresponding analytics were changing the way that campaigns were run, and based on the rave reviews and obvious bias in favor of Obama, that was all for the good.

We were told that every campaign could learn from the "young socially conscious geniuses" who designed Obama's data mining approach and that using that approach, they were unbeatable.

Fast forward to today. In what can only be characterized as a breathtakingly disingenuous meme, the trained hamsters of the main stream media, along with a phalanx of typically clueless elites and politicians, have become hysterical over a similar data mining operation conducted by a firm called Cambridge Analytics. Facebook (and Mark Zuckerberg), once the absolute darling of progressivess, is now cast as the villian because its data and its members were used to gather information that was provided to the hated Trump campaign.

Pat Bernal comments:
It is easy to be misled into believing that the Cambridge Analytica story is about rogue data miners taking advantage of an innocent Facebook. Facebook’s decision to suspend Cambridge Analytica’s access, the use of terms like “data breach”, and a good deal of coverage in the media seems to follow these lines. That, however, misses the key point. This is not a data breach by any means – and nor is it something that could not have been predicted or could easily have been avoided. This is, in many ways, Cambridge Analytica using Facebook exactly as the social media platform was designed to be used. This is how Facebook works.

Three key parts of Facebook’s model come into play: gathering data from people in order to profile them, both en masse and individually, designing systems that allow that data to be used to target people for advertising and content, then allowing third parties (generally advertisers) to use the data and those targeting systems for their own purposes. The power of these systems is often underestimated, but Facebook themselves know it, and have tested it in a number of ways.

They have demonstrated, through their “emotional contagion” experiment in 2014, that they can make people happier or sadder, simply by manipulating the order things appear in people’s timelines. They have demonstrated that they can make people more likely to vote, testing it in the 2010 US congressional elections. They can profile people based on the most mundane of information – the sheer scale of Facebook’s user-base and the amount of information given to them means that “big data” analysis can make connections that might seem bizarre, revealing insights into intelligence, politics, ethnicity and religion without people actually discussing any of those things directly.

They allow advertisements to be targeted to particular “racial affinity” groups – or tailored according to “racial affinity”. Not actual race, because that might conflict with various laws, but the race that your profile suggests you have the most “affinity” towards. Racial profiling without the name.
Having worked in and around computing for almost half a century (and having authored the world's best-selling book on software engineering), I think it's reasonable to argue that I'm not a neophyte. The problem is that our "leaders" and most of the media are. They wail that "our privacy is threatened." No ... actually, there is no privacy if you surf the web, make e-commerce purchases, and most important, use social media platforms like Facebook. They shreek that companies like Facebook "use the massive data stores they have to monetize their platforms." Gosh ... really? Who would have thunk it!

Over my years in computing, so much has changed that the field is virtually unrecognizable. But one thing remains the same—apps are created to process data to provide benefit to stakeholders who requested the development of the app in the first place. The real difference is that terabites of data are now readily accessible, apps have become increasingly powerful, A.I has entered the fray, and the stakeholders? Well, they're willing to push the boundaries. Privacy? Heh.