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The firm at the centre of FB data leak row: A mining behemoth of a different sort

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Cambridge Analytica, headquartered in London, is known to aid political campaigns through voter profiles crafted via extensive data mining.

New Delhi: A UK-based data analytics firm has found itself at the centre of a massive data leak row involving the use of millions of Facebook users’ personal information to not just influence the 2016 US presidential election but also the Brexit referendum the same year.

Cambridge Analytica, headquartered in London, is known to aid political campaigns through voter profiles crafted via extensive data mining, a tool called psychographic profiling.  These profiles are then used to target individuals using extremely customised content. The data is gathered using various sources, including social media platforms like Facebook.

Set up in 2013, the company offers data analysis under two categories, commercial and political.

The latter, according to the company website, works to “provide precise insights that will allow (one) to forecast voter behaviour”. The firm deals in “effectively engaging and persuading voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioural understandings of the voter”.

The company also offers the same services to businesses to identify individuals who can be potential targets for commercial marketing.

Right-leaning billionaire Robert Mercer, the chief executive of Renaissance Technologies, is an investor.

The Trump Connection

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are under the scanner for mining and using personal data to influence the controversial 2016 US presidential election. Cambridge Analytica reportedly used data from as many as 50 million users on Facebook when hired to help out with the 2016 Trump campaign.

According to reports, the company used online advertising specifically tailored to individual tastes, spread via bots. The ads with a higher number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ were picked up, repackaged and redistributed to the targeted demographic.

Both the firms have denied any wrongdoing.

The amount of data plays a key role here as it means the larger the quantity of data, the better the power of prediction.

India connection?

If reports are to be believed, Cambridge Analytica is in talks with a large opposition party in India to assist it in the upcoming 2019 general elections.

While the exact details are not known, a news report said the firm had made a presentation to the party in August last year and spelled out a data-driven strategy to target voters on social media.

Social media is increasingly playing a big role in elections, and an effective strategy to tap its potential is credited as an important factor for the BJP’s victory in 2014.

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