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Big Data and Psychometrics: The Dark Side

Few years ago there was a big trend in IT industry: Big Data. Everybody seemed to be doing it, especially service providers who relies so much on information about their customers, competitors, and the market in general to keep up with the competition. They collect everything about everything and everybody, everywhere, every time. These days everything we do, especially online, leaves digital traces, every movement we make, every ‘like’ is stored.

Psychometrics is techniques used to measure psychological traits, such as personality, taste & preferences, etc. Briefly, the writer wants to highlight the most common model to identify personal traits, though it is nothing new, called OCEAN:

  1. Openness to experience (curious vs. cautious)
  2. Conscientiousness (organized vs. messy)
  3. Extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved)
  4. Agreeableness (friendly vs. detached)
  5. Neuroticism (nervous vs. confident)
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So how these two concepts interconnected?

Thanks to sophisticated software and immense computational power, these two concepts can provide alarmingly close-to-accurate predictions about the individuals. For example Michal Kosinski from Cambridge University claimed to be able to predict one’s political affiliation, even skin color based on his/her 68 ‘likes’ on social media. Now bear in mind that Kosinski had already acquired millions of data by then. Nevertheless that is pretty amazing, and of course, scary!

How it is scary?

Ever wonder why one seems to have quite a ‘relevant’ ads on his/her social media page? The answer is:  micro targeting. The best tailored ads can attract more engagements (or even conversions). The question is how to decide whom to receive what ads? By now, dear readers, know the answer: based on psychometric personality data gathered earlier.

Social psychology and data analytic have been used for marketing campaigns for very long to extend the  marketing dollar by precise targeting, and eventually to improve its Return of Investment. But with the advancement of the technology (Big data and Artificial Intelligent), so far there is no stopping the use of this innovation for political campaign.

It is still very fresh in our memory the recent Brexit referendum and US General Election. It does not take a genius to imagine how this technology was in play as propaganda machine. Both campaigns were knowingly used the same company which provides such service.

Now, just to be clear, this Big Data combined with psychometrics analysis is not an illegal practice, though some would say that this technology could be exploited by irresponsible people to hijack our democracy. But what can we do as an average person? Unfortunately the answer is: there is not much we can do. But there are probably a simple way to identify ‘red flags’ when receiving posts and ads. The posts usually evoke an emotion (using bombastic words and images), they are surprisingly personal, they contain links to another sources, especially not the reputable ones. And here is another writer’s personal recommendation: be wary of unsolicited friend requests in social media.

Finally, the writer wishes to broaden our discussions beyond the rampant online hoax and hate-speech in our country nowadays. Let us keep this in mind that we potentially have bigger and scarier beast to deal with.

 

Barcelona, 13 October 2017

  1. Giber.

 

Credits:

Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal, 1961.

  1. Digman and Lewis Goldberg, 1990.

Michal Kosinski.

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About Indri Giber

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