Psychological Targeting – Why Protect Your Online Identity?

27/02/2017 | Posted by: Tapani Tanskanen | Subject: GDPR, Privacy

Ever taken an online test? Which cat would you be? What’s your personality? What is the purpose of these tests? Why does privacy matter? Why should you protect your online identity? Das Magazin wrote a great article about Michal Kosinski’s psychometrics research and its use for psychological targeting based on the ”Big 5” personality together with social media targeted audiences and dark posts.

This blog summarizes Das Magazin’s article ”Ich habe nur gezeigt, dass es die Bombe gibt” and Antidotezine’s translation ”I just showed that the bomb was there”, but I am concentrating on privacy and IAM-related interest points and less on political ones.

Big Data Knows You

Kosinski found out in 2012 that knowing less than 100 ”likes” in Facebook they could predict peoples’ political views, intelligence, and a lot more. With growing number of likes they could know a person better than a coworker, friend, parents, and even their partner at 300 likes. With even more likes, they knew the person better than what they thought about themselves. Besides likes, a profile picture, number of friends, motion sensor data, etc. can give extremely detailed data about us. Although I find all this a bit difficult to believe, it sure is frightening.

With this kind of data it is easy to find whatever kind of people groups. It’s a search engine for people! What if someone would misuse this possibility?

This kind of knowledge over people combined with social media advertisement targeting mechanisms makes psychological targeting possible, enabling the use of the exact arguments people are likely to buy. A company called SCL had realized this and approached Kosinski in 2014. He almost agreed, but realizing the company’s true intention, he didn’t. However his colleague Aleksandr Kogan had secretly started doing business with SCL. In 2015 Cambridge Analytica started working for Nigel Farage’s leave EU-campaign, using the new method microtargeting. In July 2016, UK voted for Brexit. In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected, largely thanks to the same science. Targeting Clinton supporters to make them doubt more. Blasting 175 000 different versions of for-Trump arguments in social media were used to manipulate carefully profiled targets. Using ”dark posts” — posts that are only viewable by the targeted audience that can even be an individual person — you.

What Can You Do?

It is like tabloid journalism, aiming to make you outrageous. When in rage, you make decisions you otherwise would not. And that is exactly how it works and what they want. So what can you do in order to be in control of your own mind? To vote according to your actual opinions, not manipulated ones?

  1. Following more and better-quality news sources gives you better perspective. If only one news source, often an unknown one, writes about a subject a bell should ring. Try to find other sources for the same subject, and compare different opinions on the subject.
  2. Be careful when doing online tests in social media. Why would a company create a valuable test and give it for free? Actual IQ and personality testing requires a lot of work, and they often cost money. Especially if the test is created as an application in social media, the test owner can easily get your identity data and use it for psychological targeting, thus manipulating you without you even realizing it.
  3. Be careful when doing online tests in web. Even if the test is a separate web page, many kinds of trackers can still easily find out who you are. Use a different browser and a browser that prevents tracking you. With a VPN solution, you can also hide your location and other identifiable information.
  4. Be mindful about what you write and like publicly. Any public data is easily usable by anyone. Thinking ”Why would anyone be interested in me personally — I have nothing to hide. Why should I care?” can lead to losing control of your privacy, and it cannot be restored.
  5. Remember that privacy is a basic human right.

As Mikko Hyppönen quoted President Dilma Rousseff in TEDxBRUSSELS: ”In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy.”

Tapani Tanskanen
Chief #IAMist, Loihde Trust Spellpoint