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According to a story doing the rounds, psychometric big data pushed Britain into Brexit and Trump on to America. The winning sides adopted a method developed at the University of Cambridge to psychometrically profile people by using publicly available data including Facebook "likes". They used these to create devastatingly effective digital advertising and targeted millions of voters' psychological traits.
The work was undertaken by Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis company backed by a Donald Trump-supporting billionaire, which acquired the Cambridge method from under the nose of its co-inventor Michal Kosinski. The story ends with Kosinski haunted by having revealed the existence of this digital, election-winning "bomb".
Cracking - Yarn - Swiss - Publication - Das
It's a cracking yarn, first told by Swiss publication Das Magazin, translated samizdat-style by a blog then republished by Vice's Motherboard. Its explanation of how Brexit and Trump may have used data to manipulate votes has been followed up by The Observer and The Times among others.
However, Kosinski's work develops ideas that have been around for decades. Cambridge Analytica, which offered to answer questions for this article but has not yet responded, has elsewhere denied using the methodology. And Kosinski believes micro-targeting based on online data could strengthen democracy, not cripple it.
University - Cambridge - Psychometrics - Centre - Kosinski
In 2013, when working at the University of Cambridge's Psychometrics Centre, Kosinski co-authored a scientific paper showing that Facebook likes successfully predicted whether someone voted Democrat or Republican 85 per cent of the time, sexual orientation in 88 per cent of men and whether someone was African American or Caucasian American in 95 per cent of cases. Using data from more than 58,000 volunteers who provided their likes and took standard personality tests, the authors wrote that likes were nearly as good a guide to someone's openness as the test itself.
A version of this test is online here, with another that analyses language. The first...
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