The Star Late Edition

Is big data the enemy?

- MICHAEL PEARSE Michael Pearse is head of data at VMLY&R South Africa.

IT’S BEEN out for a few months now but I only recently got to watch The

Great Hack, a documentar­y streaming on Netflix.

The Great Hack explores the many facets of data usage, privacy, and what the future of democracy may look like if we don’t regulate its usage.

Cambridge Analytica (CA) found a very profitable and somewhat harmful use for the data that they siphoned, without permission, from various social media sites.

The show focuses on CA’s involvemen­t in the 2016 US elections, where it carefully crafted messaging for the Trump campaign, and then dispersed it to “persuadabl­es”.

Persuadabl­es was the name given to a set of people who had not yet made their minds up about who they were going to vote for.

They were identified and targeted through several datasets, including Facebook’s.

CA’s influence on the election is interestin­g because it’s quantifiab­le.

It’s nefarious, it’s new territory, and while there are a multitude of laws globally that protect personal informatio­n, CA was able to manipulate the system to its benefit.

There are now people advocating that data rights should become the new human rights. You, the individual, should be able to control your data, who sees it, and how it’s used.

Many social media platforms have been implementi­ng better security, especially when it comes to third-party applicatio­ns that gather data to help protect those rights.

The problem is, many people still don’t understand how much data they’re giving away on a daily basis and how it can be used against them. Data is just a tool.

In my profession­al life, we’re focused on creating work that lives in people’s lives. That means we use data and great creative to make a personal, positive difference to people on behalf of our clients.

Over the years we’ve worked on a myriad campaigns that do just that. Some were simply designed to communicat­e product benefits to those people that need them, others were designed to influence positive behaviour, like saving water, or helping those in need.

The pressing question is: how do we protect ourselves against people who may use our data for villainous purposes? The fact is, it’s our responsibi­lity to be vigilant.

CA collected more than 5 000 individual data points on each individual it had in its database.

Facebook claims to collect way less data than that, which they gather from social plug-ins, Facebook logins, advertisin­g analytics as well as its other companies, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Shutting down your Facebook account would hardly make a dent. The fact is, protecting yourself is less about what you do externally than it is about what you do internally.

All content is created to evoke an emotion and drive action, that’s the driving force of advertisin­g. The key differenti­ator is the purpose and intent behind the action.

Next time you’re presented with a piece of content that evokes a negative emotion, ask yourself about the purpose behind it. Is it legitimate or are you being manipulate­d?

Be smart. Ask why you feel the way you do, and you’ll have already put yourself in a much safer space.

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