IT BYTES BACK! says: Cambridge Analytica is the definition of Evil Genius

If someone looks up the definition of an evil genius in a 100 year’s time, I’m betting Cambridge Analytica is going to appear in the top 5 examples.

This video (How Cambridge Analytica Used Machine Learning to Mine Facebook Data, from the people at Codecademy explains how Cambridge Analytica cleverly used machine learning to profile and target certain personality types during the US elections.

If you don’t already know, Cambridge Analytica is in the business of marketing electoral candidates. The Wikipedia description for Cambridge Analytica says:

“Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was started in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group. The company is partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund manager who supports many politically conservative causes. The firm maintains offices in London, New York City, and Washington, DC.

So what they did was to develop a personality survey to determine which of the big five personality groups a person fell into. The five personality factors are described as openness to experienceconscientiousnessextraversionagreeableness, and neuroticism. These are often represented by the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE.

Cambridge Analytica’s survey was marketed to Facebook users who also agreed to share their Facebook likes with the company, when they took the survey. Using machine learning and the results of the survey, the company was able to analyse their likes and correlate certain personality types with liking a certain combination of pages.

All this was pretty much above board since the user gave permission to the company to access their list of liked pages.

The dodgy bit comes in where Cambridge Analytica exploited a flaw in Facebook that allowed them to access the list of liked pages of all the friends of the survey takers.

They were then able to use machine learning to predict what personality traits these friends might have.

So let’s break down the numbers here. The latest announcement from Facebook on 5 April 2018 says as much as 87 million Facebook users around the world might have been affected.

Obviously 87 million users didn’t take the survey.  For the sake of argument let’s say that the average person has 300 Facebook friends. I know this is very conservative for some of you but this is an average number.  If you divide 87 million by 300, only 290 000 people had to take the survey for the evil genius to profile over 87 million people.

Pure evil genius.

It’s a shame that machine learning gets a bad reputation as a result.

IT BYTES BACK! Says:  Crime might bring in the moolah initially, but there is hell to pay when you do get caught and drag your business partners into the mess.




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