Cambridge Analytica thinks that I’m a “Very Unlikely Republican.” Another political data firm, ALC Digital, has concluded I’m a “Socially Conservative,” Republican, “Boomer Voter.” In fact, I’m a 27-year-old millennial with no set party allegiance.
For all the fanfare, the burgeoning field of mining our personal data remains an inexact art.
One thing is certain: My personal data, and likely yours, is in more hands than ever. Tech firms, data brokers and political consultants build profiles of what they know — or think they can reasonably guess — about your purchasing habits, personality, hobbies and even what political issues you care about.
You can find out what those companies know about you but be prepared to be stubborn. Very stubborn. To demonstrate how this works, we’ve chosen a couple of representative companies from three major categories: data brokers, big tech firms and political data consultants.
Few of them make it easy. Some will show you on their websites, others will make you ask for your digital profile via the U.S. mail. And then there’s Cambridge Analytica, the controversial Trump campaign vendor that has come under intense fire in light of a report in the British newspaper The Observer and in The New York Times that the company used improperly obtained data from Facebook to help build voter profiles.
To find out what the chaps at the British data firm have on you, you’re going to need both stamps and a “cheque.”
Once you see your data, you’ll have a much better understanding of how this shadowy corner of the new economy works. You’ll see what seemingly personal information they know about you … and you’ll probably have some hypotheses about where this data is coming from. You’ll also probably see some predictions about who you are that are hilariously wrong.
And if you do obtain your data from any of these companies, please let us know your thoughts at [email protected]. We won’t share or publish what you say (unless you tell us that’s it’s OK).
Cambridge Analytica and Other Political Consultants
Making statistically informed guesses about Americans’ political beliefs and pet issues is a common business these days, with dozens of firms selling data to candidates and issue groups about the purported leanings of individual American voters.
Few of these firms have to give your data. But Cambridge Analytica is required to do so by an obscure European rule.
Around the time of the 2016 election, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Belgian mathematician and founder of a website that helps people exercise their data protection rights called PersonalData.IO, approached me with an idea for a story. He flagged some of Cambridge Analytica’s claims about the power of its “psychographic” targeting capabilities and suggested that I demand my data from them.