Will Democracy be again auctioned to Digital?

Kamala Harris Dubai

In 1958, Shyamala Gopalan stunned her orthodox Hindu Brahmin family by announcing that she had applied for a master’s programme at UC Berkeley in USA.

Little did she know that sixty years later, her daughter, whom she raised as a single-mother in the “land of possibilities” will be chosen as the first bi-racial woman vice-presidential contender.

Cut to 2008, when another woman achiever, Sheryl Sandberg was hired away from Google to be Facebook’s COO. Sandberg was charged with growing Facebook’s revenue and advertising businesses in preparation for an inevitable IPO. We all remember how that panned out.

Will Democracy be hacked again?

 In March 2018, The Guardian and The New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users, and had used that data to target voters on Facebook to get them to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. The number was later revised to 87 million Facebook profiles.

With the next US presidential elections less than three months away, will “democracy be hacked again“? Or will the wheels of fortune continue to roll for Kamala Harris that will allow America to regain its status as the world’s flag-bearer of democracy, opportunity and possibilities?

What is data harvesting? What really happened in 2016 elections?

Aleksandr Kogan Kloud Kafe
Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal

In 2018, it became public knowledge that millions of Facebook users’ data had been harvested without their consent. At the heart of the issue was Cambridge Analytica (CA) which in partnership with Cambridge researcher, Aleksandr Kogan harvested data from millions of Facebook profiles. 

Kogan had developed an application called “thisisyourdigitallife” which featured a personality quiz and CA paid for people to take it. The app recorded results of each quiz, collected data from quiz taker’s Facebook account such as personal information and Facebook activity (e.g., what content was “liked”) as well as their Facebook friends which led to data harvesting of about 87 million Facebook profiles.

The researcher then passed on this data to CA, which then used an algorithm that enabled them to psychologically profile people based on their Facebook interactions. Donald Trump had hired CA as a part of his 2016 Presidential election strategy. 

The “dark post”

In order to deliver pro-Trump materials to individuals online, CA targeted individuals with a lesser known Facebook feature called “dark post” that contains personalized ads that are visible only to targeted individuals.CA consciously exploited fears of individuals with targeted advertising based on their personality profiles. The use of highly personalized ads made them vulnerable to Trump’s messages that compelled them to vote for him. This digital onslaught played a significant role in Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton. 

The birth of GDPR

Consumers must realize that their data are worthwhile. Consumers should learn how companies, in particular those offering free services such as Facebook and Google, use their personal data to run their business. Consumers should read data privacy notices and make use of the in- product user controls offered by most tech companies. Consumers should take advantage of their rights to ask a company to have their personal data viewed, edited and deleted because, after all, data belongs to consumers and not companies.

And eventually governments must reshape outdated laws in order to tackle the current complexities of data usage and transfers The European Union, for instance has set up a global example, through the General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect on May 25, 2018.

In conclusion

With Biden, 77, expected to serve a single term should he get elected, Kamala — whose name means a blooming lotus in her native Tamil and Sanskrit — stands a strong chance of eventually becoming the first woman President of the US. That is, provided the dubious forces of digital marketing do not sway the voters away from democracy.

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Kiran Borkar

Having been part of the Internet Industry since the late Nineties, he believes Nostradamus goofed up by not predicting how the World Wide Web would change the world.

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