The recent scandal of Cambridge Analytica has raised number of questions on the usage of personal information by social media platforms. The British political advertising company had information of more than 50 million Facebook users and utilized it for advertising in 2016 U.S. Presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. How it gained access to data and what were its consequences came into light a few weeks earlier. Then Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the mishandling of data. However, there were some answers that needed to be given. Why did Facebook take so much time to react after the matter came into light? Whether it should be held liable? How deep the trouble is for executives of Cambridge Analytica from various jurisdictions? The answers of these questions will be found out in future. What’s more important is, taking precautions for the future to avoid such incidents. Moreover, it is essential to determine what will be the implications for the future.
It is not clear whether the microtargeting based on the data of 50 million Facebook users made any significant impact on the outcome of the elections. But technologies that extract insights from massive amount of data and utilize it for behavioral profiling & microtargeting will play a crucial role in the future. These technologies will be developed faster than the speed at which policymakers can respond.
At the event by NYC Media Lab in 2015, Alexander Tuzhilin, professor of information systems at the NYU Stern School of Business, outlined that most of the technologies that use targeting today represent second generation of technologies. The data utilized by these technologies include context awareness, multi-criteria ratings, spatiotemporal & mobile data, conversational recommendations, social-media data, and others. These are standard tools used by internet marketing companies.
The third generation of targeting will include, as Tuzhilin predicted, the convergence of multiple disciplines, such as artificial intelligence, data mining, psychology, economics, marketing, and experiential design theory. These disciplines will be combined with rise in number of surveillance sensors installed at homes and communities such as voice assistants and internet-of-things. Moreover, the devices will become better in interpretation of speech, detection of facial expressions, and analyzing physiological signals.
This shows that the third generation of targeting technologies will know humans better than they know them today. They will have more data than what is available today. After Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has put restrictions on data access. But there is more information in the market than before. European Union has been taking precaution to protect data of citizens by introducing a General Data Protection Regulation. However, the U.S. is heading in the opposite direction. Recently, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave a permission to internet service providers to sell data on web browsing behavior of its users.
According to the report on online political manipulation from the European Data Protection Supervisor, the advanced targeting technologies will combine various methods for automatic generation of content in the form of texts, images, and videos. Then-CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix said in his testimony to the British Parliament that the company generated thousands of pieces of content for the Trump campaign based on different target audience. The company availed creative services from other companies to make most of the creatives. While some of the messages were tailor-made by technology. It will be interesting to see how the next generation of targeting technology will utilize data from people, generate content, and influence the outcome of elections.