A really interesting report on the Guardian about the data scientists working within Ted Cruz’s campaign. As Zeynap Tufekci argues, the potential implications of computational politics are remarkably worrying. We urgently need ethical regulation of data science because otherwise this will prove to be the thin end of the wedge:
Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission, to boost his surging White House run and gain an edge over Donald Trump and other Republican rivals, the Guardian can reveal.
A little-known data company, now embedded within Cruz’s campaign and indirectly financed by his primary billionaire benefactor, paid researchers at Cambridge University to gather detailed psychological profiles about the US electorate using a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey.
As part of an aggressive new voter-targeting operation, Cambridge Analytica – financially supported by reclusive hedge fund magnate and leading Republican donor Robert Mercer – is now using so-called “psychographic profiles” of US citizens in order to help win Cruz votes, despite earlier concerns and red flags from potential survey-takers.
Documents seen by the Guardian have uncovered longstanding ethical and privacy issues about the way academics hoovered up personal data by accessing a vast set of US Facebook profiles, in order to build sophisticated models of users’ personalities without their knowledge.
In the race to advance data-driven electioneering strategies pioneered by successive Obama campaigns, Cruz has turned to Cambridge Analytica for its unparalleled offering of psychological data based on a treasure trove of Facebook “likes”, allowing it to match individuals’ traits with existing voter datasets, such as who owned a gun.