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Dealing In Data: Cambridge Analytica

Who’s in Control of Yours?

Social media is home to everything about you, the friends you hang out with on the weekend, the places you've visited, the bands you like and the perhaps even the way you have voted.

We have spent the last number of years sharing so much about our personal lives online that we forget that this data can be powerful beyond belief. We curate ourselves on multiple different platforms, all very accessible to others. Yet, this weekend we all found ourselves a little shocked and perhaps a little scared about what all this data was being used for.

Cambridge Analytica, the same data company who are known to have worked on the 2016 Trump Presidential race were accused of harvesting nearly 50 million Facebook profiles without permission and using that data to influence the way people may have behaved during the 2016 election cycle.

Furthermore, Channel 4 ran a documentary Monday night which exposed undercover conversations with Cambridge Analytica’s front man Alexander Nix and other ways that the company may be able to help candidates during elections. Entrapment, bribery, whistleblowers, the weekend's news cycles had it all and yet some people still aren’t grasping the seriousness of the situation.

In Ireland, legislation is being passed through the Oireachtas, which would open up the country to serve as a hub for companies such as Cambridge Analytica to profile and conduct nontransparent voter analysis in every election in the EU, thus virtually bypassing the forthcoming GDPR legislation. While it is too early to know the full extent of the Data Protection Bill 2018, it is not wise for Ireland to open itself up to become the loophole country for GDPR.

Facebook - Bit Part Player or Victim?

Let’s talk whistleblower for one second - namely Chris Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica one. Now known as the “millennial data scientist”; Christopher Wylie recently revealed the surprising way data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica gathered personal data of more than 50 million American Facebook users without their knowledge, which Cambridge Analytica has denied.

As an employee at Cambridge Analytica, Wylie used his experience in coding and data science to take the personal information of U.S. voters and target them with personalized political ads, according to Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr's yearlong investigation published in The Observer.

"It's something that I regret," Wylie told Cadwalladr, adding that "it was a grossly unethical experiment because you're playing with the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness."

Which begs the question, why do we leave ourselves open to this kind of personal violation? Since all these shocking revelations have broken, it is reported that Facebook has lost $37bn in share value overnight and #DeleteFacebook is now trending.

It’s refreshing to see that misuse of data or threats of such, is enough to cause such a stir, whether this is in fact what happened is still a bit blurry. Are Cambridge Analytica actually as good as what they claim or should we be more concerned that Facebook allowed this to happen? You decide.

One thing we do know for certain is political manipulation happens…everywhere.

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