Big data has been a big part of many businesses for a while now, but the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has proved that anyone who engages in the collection or analysis of data must tread very carefully.
Cambridge Analytica are a company who collect vast amounts of data on individuals all of the world and aggregate them all into one place. When this happens, it is extremely easy tp profile individuals to a shockingly accurate degree, and as we have seen with the revelations that just such data may allegedly have been used to influence votes and elections in the UK and USA, that data can very easily be used to manipulate the masses too. This is a terrifying thought for many.
In the past few years, there have also been numerous data leaks and breaches affecting big companies, notably Ashley Madison, again putting consumers and internet users at risk. Despite this, there is a culture of apathy against most users, largely because they do not see any actual impact in their own lives from the misuse of their data.
It is usually only when a criminal uses their data to make a credit card application in their name or drain their bank accounts that the average person worried about their data. However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has been different. Vast numbers of people have expressed their outrage at the way the big data company have acted.
Why is the CA situation any different from previous data breaches/misuse? Perhaps because the company has been accused of meddling with democracy, which is the very foundation of society in the UK and the US. If it is so easy for unruly companies to manipulate the vote, then it could have very serious consequences for us all.
This is in direct contrast to companies who collect and store data with a view to improving the products and services they offer to their customers. Take Netflix, for example. The streaming company collects a lot of data on its users, but it does so to ensure that its system is able to recommend tailored movies and TV shows to the customer – a benefit, Or look at ba company like Amazon who collects data purely so they can recommend you products and special offers that you are likely to be interested in. Although these recommendations don’t always high the mark, most of the time they are pretty useful, and that means that individuals are willing to tolerate them. It’s a whole different ball game when data is being collected purely to manipulate an individual in the most sinister of ways – the average person really does not hold any truck with that.
When you are manipulated by your own data, it is more than annoying – it is sinister – and when it could actually affect the outcome of an important presidential election, then it is actually dangerous.
In 2017, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, speaking at a marketing conference claimed that any two people could be similar in terms of their characteristics, but they could have very different drivers behind their motivation and by knowing what their inherent characteristics were and what was driving their actions, it would be very easy to manipulate their decisions by playing on their hopes and fears – a very sinister things to say, and something it has been revealed that they are doing, by psychoprofiling them and then using the data on them to push them to vote for Trump.
Of course, it’s not just Cambridge Analytica who are using big data to collect information on individuals and then using that knowledge to target them with certain content. There are numerous businesses big and small who do this. That is not really a problem as long as they act sensibly. For example, SMEs who have caslec electrical and data install the infrastructure they need to collect customer data, who then use that data to advertise their goods to the most appropriate people aren’t doing anything wrong. Sure, it might annoy a few people, but their motive is simply to sell more, not to have a president elected or to push a certain political agenda.
Cambridge Analytica was different. Allegedly, they violated the agreement they has with Facebook to collect data profiles from around 50 million of its users. Then, they allegedly manipulated users to such an extent that it was felt the democratic process was undermined in numerous countries across the globe.
What can we all learn from this?
Big data technology is ubiquitous in the 21st Century. Most of us give up our data to various apps and platforms without even thinking about it, and although this is not necessarily a bad thing (Netflix recommendations, shopping suggestions etc.) data analytics have made it possible for a whole range of people to use our data for nefarious reasons and most people don’t like this.
So, if you are a company that does collect personal data on your customers, you need to first know that the data you collect is valuable, and that means you should take as many measures as you can to protect that data from hackers who would use it for nefarious reasons.
Vet Your Chain
You also need to make efforts to ensure that you vet any partner companies or organizations who your business may have cause to give access to your data. Check their credentials and ensure that they only have access to the data that they really do need to see.
Monitor Your Network
It’s also a pretty good idea to set up some kind of monitoring software on your network, so that you will be alerted should anyone seek to access your data without your permission. The sooner you know about any breaches, the faster you can act.
If somehow your data is breached and you want to ensure that you keep your clients’ confidence, then you need to act quickly to minimize the impact that any loss of data has, notify your customers and offer advice to minimize the impact.
Of course, most important of all is using the data you collect fairly. If you cannot do that, then you will lose the trust of your customers and end up with a Cambridge Analytica sized scandal on your hands.