Before everyone gets too excitable about the revelations concerning Cambridge Analytica, perhaps they might like to consider that (a number of years ago that are still too few for the terms of the N.D.A. I signed to have run their course) I worked for a company that worked not so much ‘hand in glove’ as ‘fist well beyond rectum and into the duodenum’ with Facebook and anyone else who wanted to.
This company would assess your needs/desires/whims/urges/whatever and advise you on what data you needed to gather, how best to go about obtaining it, how to manage it, analyse it, exploit it.
Facebook had an interesting programme it was trialing, under which businesses could take user data, combine it with publicly available (and their own) data and do all kinds of fascinating things with it: given the information that a person had purchased a copy of To Kill A Mocking Bird in San Diego, I was myself able to learn … from data passed to ‘trusted partners’ and other ‘third party data processing services’ … that he had also purchased a pair of jeans in New York and, from that, learn his inside leg measurement.
Obviously, I was able to learn a great deal more than that about him and his inside leg measurement was of no especial interest to me but it did stand out as a ‘whoah’ moment, insofar as “how the Hell can it be that someone’s reading habits can give away information on their physique!?”
Naturally, I’m exaggerating for effect … I wasn’t really surprised; I’d been warning people about the dangers of using ‘plastic’ rather than cash for at least twenty years already … never mind all the other things I had long known it possible to do with information that 99% of people would consider trivial and not worth thinking about — all this experience did was make it clear how frighteningly cheap it had become in the meantime.
And 99% of people still don’t believe me when I tell them what is not merely possible but actually yawn-inducingly ‘old hat’ … far from new and long since surpassed by new techniques and technology.
You should take a look at the field of computational linguistics some time. Read about the work done in the ’60s, never mind since then. Have a look at Fuzzy Logic/Fuzzy Set Theory — ‘linguistic hedges’ in particular — and see just what it’s possible to do by taking the cosign of ‘Thursday’ and multiplying it by the sine of ‘Red’. You wouldn’t think you could apply trigonometry to language in any meaningful way, would you? But that’s what that ‘intelligent agent’ you’re ‘conversing’ with is doing.
And that’s just one example … one field.
You should see what else can be learned about you given ‘absolutely nothing’ to work with and the weird and wonderful mathematical transformations that can be used to read your mind.
Given no more than the time of day, GPS co-ordinates and the length of a telephone conversation between two people, I could tell you (with something around 97% accuracy) what they talked about —your father thinks your mother has an acute hypotenuse.
So, Cambridge Analytica were able to nudge your voting behaviour were they?
Your credit card supplier knows when you’ll buy your next television … and where you’ll be when you do it.
Google knew a woman was pregnant before she did herself and sent her a congratulatory email.
Facebook knows more about you than you ever will yourself and alters your mood by determining what appears in your feed.
The FBI arrested a man for murdering his wife after they deanonymised his Google searches for axes and …
You thought ‘anonymised’ data were anonymous?
HA ha ha ha ha!
Oh, my God, that’s funny.
HA ha ha ha ha!
Sorry … you’ll have to give me a moment to recover.
HA ha ha ha ha!
I Know Where Your Children Are
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Sorry … where were we?
Oh, yes …
And that’s all old news … the Future will be really scary—you just wait until the cashless society finally arrives.
So, yeah, you’re all up in arms about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica now and will call for something to be done about it.
And then you’ll go back to supplying Facebook, Google, Apple, et al with a steady stream of information about yourself — and you’ll keep using your debit/credit card to buy everything.