British company Cambridge Analytica helped Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election with the help of Big data technologies and personally targeted advertising on the Internet. Before that the same firm has worked with supporters of Brexit, in Britain, and has now signed a contract with the French “National front”. Is it true that the unexpected outcomes of voting in different countries is not a failure of sociology, and the victory of the sociology of a new type? The source Radio Liberty, Michal Kosinski, the study of which is indirectly connected with the activities of Cambridge Analytica, says that this is an exaggeration, but Big data technology and decrease of privacy promise the world global changes.
At the end of September, in the midst of the elections, speaking in new York at the Concordia summit, an annual event for influential politicians and businessmen from around the world, the founder of the Cambridge Analytica Alexander nix told how new technology has improved the efficiency of the campaign of the opponent of trump’s for the Republican nomination of Ted Cruz, the beginning of the race virtually unknown candidate. The Knicks told how, for example, people of different temperament is different to present the opinion of the candidate about the law on the free distribution of weapons: fearful people with high levels of neuroticism weapons can be represented as a source of security, and the rich, the conservatives-the extroverts show a picture of duck hunting.
Later Cambridge Analytica has already helped himself to Trump, according to estimates of NYX, for a relatively modest fee, in total, about 15 million dollars. By analyzing data leaving the network all users of the Internet, the company has managed to find non-obvious relationships and patterns (for example, that people who prefer cars American production — ready voters trump) and use them to target online advertising to personalize the messages emanating from the headquarters of the Republican candidate. The residents of Little Haiti in Miami showed the information about the refusal of Hillary Clinton to participate in the liquidation of consequences of the earthquake in Haiti, the blacks live, where Clinton compares black men with predators. Volunteers trump received a detailed profile of the residents of the houses where they were going to conduct a direct campaign.
It’s hard to say how big the impact of that work Cambridge Analytica had on the outcome of the US election, but this campaign is not the only example when the winners are the ones who hired this company. So, in 2015, the services of Cambridge Analytica started to use a radical supporter of Brexit Farage. The Swiss publication Das Magasin, recently published an investigation on the activities of the Cambridge Analytica (in Russian can be read here), says that the company received a contract from the French “National front”, in addition, are interested in cooperation with some political forces in Switzerland, Germany and possibly Italy.
One of the heroes of the publication Das Magasin — Michal Kosinski, a researcher of Polish origin, former Deputy Director of the psychometrics Centre at Cambridge University, and currently assistant Professor Stanford University USA. For several years, Kosinski with colleagues in Cambridge have developed a system that is based on user activity in a social network is an extensive psychological profile of the person. The system is able not only to describe character traits, but also to predict, among other things, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, and even the political preferences of a user.
Swiss journalists report that in early 2014 to Kosinski asked a colleague, Alexander Kogan, who offered the young researchers to apply the created model to analyze millions of profiles of American citizens by order of a certain company. As it became clear later, this company was associated with Cambridge Analytica. Kosinski refused to cooperate, but the methods that Cambridge Analytica applied in the referendum in Britain and the US presidential elections, at least very similar model, invented by Michal Kosinski.
Radio Liberty phoned Kosinski in California and asked him about what can be said about a man by his “digital trail” of how to trust rumors or Cambridge Analytica, lost the war for privacy and more dangerous if the artificial intelligence of Donald trump.
— What is psychometry? What do you do as a researcher?
— By itself, the psychometry is an ancient science, I think, two or three millennia. In essence, the science of psychological measurement attempts, as closely as possible to install various psychological aspects, personality, intellectual ability, happiness, tendency to depression and so on. Traditionally such measurements are made using questionnaires, psychological tests, but recently I and some other psychometricians understand what they can do, assessing the digital footprint of a person, and then any questions you can not ask any questionnaires and tests is not necessary. And this is a revolutionary moment. The importance of the history Cambridge Analytica, about which wrote edition Das Magasin, really is not that the company helped Trump in the election race. It is a commercial company, they have technology, they want to make money, everything is clear. It is important that if you wanted to be someone’s psychological profile, you had to ask the person to fill out a questionnaire, take a test subject and was well aware that now, at this very moment, someone measures its psychological characteristics. And now you can do the same thing, but man does not know his most intimate features right now someone assesses and measures. Just look at the digital footprint: social networks, likes, browsing history pages on the Internet, the history of search queries. Based on these data, we can draw incredibly accurate psychological portrait. On the one hand, it seems very intimidating, on the other, this can be a lot of benefit. For example, some kind of online platform can offer the most appropriate according to your character and abilities of the work or to recommend a film that you will surely enjoy. This is normal. But when you open your page in “Facebook” and see there is, personally directed, targeted for you based on your detailed psychological profile, which was compiled without your knowledge and consent, it is not very normal.
— That you personally could make my complete psychological profile, knowing only my name, on the basis of the track, which I left on the Internet?
I’m a scientist and just wouldn’t be doing this. If you volunteer wanted to help with my research and provided their details, I’d love to include them in its database, exactly anonymous and promised never to sell or pass. But many companies, of course, constantly collect information about you without permission and use it for example for targeted advertising.
— This information is certainly not stored in one place — one company known data my location, the other financial transactions, and the third likes on Facebook. All of this can be put together?
Well, first, it is generally not necessary. Usually to build an accurate profile is enough of something one of your interests on Facebook, for example, or history pages of the browser. Secondly, the company collects information about you usually exchange with each other or just sell in the General market data. There are projects, like Acxiom, which are all collected together and sold to firms such as Cambridge Analyticа. You can just come and say — I need the data on 10 million Americans out of a certain region, and they are the happy to sell. Thirdly, in order to campaign with a personal targeting, it is not necessary to have individual user data. You can use so-called behavioral targeting. For example, you can’t ask Facebook to show certain ads to all people who are prone to a certain type of behavior. But you can be a model to relate this type of behavior with some psychological profile, and this model even, you could quite honestly to build paid several tens of thousands of people a small fee for completing the questionnaire. And when the model is built, you ask her: how do I find the emotional extroverts? Model answers — no problem, those who liked such ten books, these ten films are the ten musicians. Now you go to Facebook with its advertising, only you don’t need to ask to show her emotional extroverts, what “Facebook” would do not. Instead, you are asking to show ads to people who have a certain set of likes. The result is that you have not had any personal data, but you’ve been personally targeted ads.
— Are there companies that seek to create a psychological profile of humanity, at least everyone who leaves digital footprints?
— It is unlikely that someone is thinking in such global categories, but to some extent this deals with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Visa, Mastercard, Acxiom is the same. And all these data are widely traded in the market.
— That is somewhere on the market for sale, for example, and my psychological profile, and incredibly accurate. You said in the comments for publication Das Magazin, that only a small number of likes in Facebook to know more about you than the nearest friend. Is it really so?
— Yes, this was an interesting study. Just ten likes (interests), so that the system could better recognize your personality than a work colleague, and 230-240 likes the computer will know more about you than your spouse.
But what exactly does it mean to know more?
This means that if you ask the computer to fill in instead of you psychological questionnaire, he makes a mistake less than your wife.
Is answers to questions like “are you Afraid of the dark”?
Yes, typical of the psychological questionnaires. So really, somewhere in the market you can buy very accurate information about your identity, including your political leanings, your religion, your sexual orientation, about your IQ. An idea of what you’re known by your interests on Facebook, you can use the website Applymagicsauce.com but of course, that is not the full picture.
— Let us turn to the history of Cambridge Analytica. Tell me, do you not have any relation to this company?
— No, and never had. I heard about its existence from the press.
— Alexander Kogan which, according to the publication Das Magazin, the proposed Cambridge Analytica technology, psychological profiling, was your colleague?
— Yes, he was my colleague, or rather, he was an assistant Professor at the psychological faculty of the University of Cambridge at the time when I was a graduate student. But our ways are long gone, he founded a small company and, as far as I understand from the press, selling data Cambridge Analytica, and I stayed in the academic world.
— Can I assume that Cambridge Analytica uses you developed the model?
— I would say that they use similar models, but see to develop such a model, don’t need especially deep science, this is no magic. This can be done by anyone who has basic programming skills, some money and a computer connected to the Internet — actually, that’s what makes the issue so significant. Here we use the standard statistical methods, nothing special. The main idea of my publications that it is easy, it is only important to change the focus: psychometrics no longer need questionnaires and tests, it is sufficient to have a digital footprint of a person. And this gives huge advantages, you can improve marketing, career planning, methods of psychological assistance, and much more. But the same technology can be used against people. I’m sure Alexander Kogan was aware of my research and, although I can only judge according to the journalists, he did exactly what I suggested, and sold the result Cambridge Analytica. I have said many times and clearly indicated in their articles that didn’t inspire this kind of activity, moreover, I believe that people engaged in digital psychological profiling long before me just kept it as active as Cambridge Analytica. I urge you to develop policies, procedures that would determine the ethical use of this technology.
— Do you think Cambridge Analytica do could significantly affect the results of the U.S. presidential election?
— Honestly, I don’t know. It is clear that Cambridge Analytica interested in, to loudly trumpet its success, but in the end, the election results do not define methods for Big data, and candidates, even as now, however, voters going to the polls. Perhaps the activities of the Cambridge Analytica has become the last straw that determined the final result, but most likely, this probably does not know himself Alexander the Knicks. On the other hand, we must realize that technology is, and to defend against it is almost impossible. You can stop using Facebook, but will still write e-mails. Decide to use carrier pigeon — not without a credit card. Maybe the countries could enact laws restricting such practices, but it may not work. By the way, I don’t know for sure, but I heard what you did in the Cambridge Analytica for trump, contrary to current us law, and therefore direct analysis of the data they did in Britain. You know, I’m a scientist, I’m doing psychometrics, I’m not an expert in politics, democracy and freedom, but I think we have to accept the fact that no privacy will remain. Instead of getting involved in another battle over privacy, is to recognize that the war is already lost, and it is better to attend to the fact that the world has become a favorable environment for a man devoid of privacy.
— Curious, to what extent the formation of a psychological profile, personal targeting can affect the real world.
— From a scientific point of view to talk about it difficult, because it is difficult to experiment. That is if you trade any gel, you can compare number of clicks, but to assess, for example, the efficiency of the methods of Big data in political campaigns, which is more like a brand than a campaign to increase sales, is very difficult. We did some experiments, not with politicians, because I think it is unethical, and certain consumer goods, and it turned out that the personal targeting, the use of individual advertising message based on the psychological profile doubles the effectiveness of advertising. And it’s an incredible result, usually the fight is for improving the efficiency of some three percent, and even this saves the companies hundreds of millions of dollars. And here twice!
— It is strange that you have not become a billionaire.
— I have a great life. By the way, there are many psychological works that prove that happiness need not so much money, you should, of course, that was enough for the vacation. In fact, things are probably not as easy as it seems to me as a scientist, I’m just ready to talk about these things openly, and others are working on real projects, not telling anyone anything.
— To me the idea of psychological profiling based on digital track seems fairly natural, I’m sure many are using it in advertising. Our world may have already changed much, just that we don’t even notice.
— Probably, I that these changes are very welcome. We had inventions and terrible than Big data, we dealt with nuclear energy — I can cope with that, though, probably, and not without casualties. As I said, I think the battle for privacy is already lost, we live in a world of postprivatizare, and therefore, you should invest the effort in that everyone had equal rights and opportunities, so that to hide anything nobody wants. I hope most of the tolerance can solve the problem of lack of privacy.
— But the problem is not only that others will learn all the secrets of man and begin to it differently, but that was a powerful tool for manipulation.
— This, in my opinion, should handle education. Easy to manipulate by those who know little who do not read who are not traveling. Such a person can say that in Syria there is no war, and indeed all Syrians fucking criminals, and he is willing to believe.
I think you can manipulate and educated people, with the help of vanity and sex, for example.
— I don’t think. Here’s one you probably know well your wife, you it becomes easy to manipulate?
— I don’t know, I’m just no such purpose, but surely there are many people who would be interested as effectively as possible to manipulate me so that I went and voted, for example, for Putin.
— Of course, there is, and it happens all the time, all advertising, all marketing is manipulation of this kind, and I don’t see what we can do about it. And still to manipulate educated, open and happy people is difficult. And to abandon Facebook, email, credit cards late, and just stupid. Facebook is a beautiful thing, so I much in my life told me about the risks of its use, but I use myself, and with pleasure, and I would even have to pay for it, if I had to.
— You do, by the way, was offered a job at Facebook?
— Yes, it’s true. I am satisfied with my job at the University, but actually, for a person engaged in the study of the behavior and wanting to change people’s lives for the better, a career in a company like “Facebook” or “Google” is a great way. I think of models and study them, and if I worked at Facebook, I could actually use them to change the lives of millions of people, and not necessarily at the same time they sell something.
— It is terrible that you can a couple of clicks to change the lives of millions of people.
— Really to affect millions of people, before you had to be an authoritarian dictator, and now you can be an engineer working in some Internet companies. But scary is not it. All these algorithms is to search in Google, Recommender systems, and so on — based on the most simple mathematics, but it applies to huge arrays of data. And in the end no one understands how all this works in fact, even the developers themselves. Here in Russia there are any laws that everyone thinks are bad, but it’s clear laws that can be corrected. And computer algorithms and samebecause become so complex that if they work, somehow, it is not clear what and where to fix them.
So far we are from the moment when any such out-of-control, inaccessible to our understanding, the system will arrange a nuclear war?
— Know, is that Donald trump has far more opportunities and chances to destroy humanity, than Big data, but in the future… See, there are doves and ants, I think they know that the world is ruled by man? Guess what Donald trump can click on the red button? No, of course. Worth remembering this, because when the world will rule artificial intelligence, we can do this just as well not to notice. We can no longer comprehend and analyze the volumes of data that they themselves produce — and we have to trust the computer. You can ask the machine: what can predict based on these data? She answers: Yes, of course. You ask: how do you do it? She says: I’m sorry, but you do not understand. And all this is already a reality. You know, that American courts use a computer system, in deciding whether to parole prisoners? Computers decide to give you credit or not. The computer puts to the ground plane, and it’s great because people can easily make troubles. The lives of 800 passengers of “Boeing-787” is in the hands of the computer, not the person, and this is today’s reality.