Will big data break liberal democracy?


After news broke that a political consulting company accessed and used data from millions of Facebook profiles to build software to profile and influence voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, regulators and lawmakers around the world took notice.

The use of big data to drive sophisticated political operations isn’t new. The 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns were adept at mining and analyzing huge data sets to tailor specific messages to individual voters – known as micro-targeting (The Washington Post).

Nor is it always effective, as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz found after hiring Cambridge Analytica during his 2016 presidential campaign (Quartz).

In the aftermath of the U.S. 2016 presidential election, some argued that big data was breaking American politics (NBC News).

But the issue isn’t confined to American politics. Cambridge Analytica, the consulting company at the center of the latest scandal, has worked with politicians all over the world, including in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, and more (Cambridge Analytica).

But some analysts say that to focus too closely on Cambridge Analytica is to miss the wood for the tree, since there are many other companies and other players doing similar things. Carl Miller, research director at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos tweeted: “If we focus on CA [Cambridge Analytica] as an outlier, we’re missing scrutiny of the entire industry and political use of big data – which includes people from all sides of politics.”

Tell us what's missing from the reporting so far?

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Purpose

  • Identify other companies and organizations doing work similar to Cambridge Analytica
  • Identify who owns them
  • Work out how, where, and for who they’re conducting their work
  • Try to establish how successful they’ve been, as well as why

Companies

  1. Cambridge Analytica
  2. SCL Group (CA parent company)
  3. i360 – Koch brothers (Time Magazine)
  4. AggregateIQ (AIQ), Ca. (The Observer)

What companies could you add?

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Resources

What investigative resources could you add?

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Further reading

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