Cambridge Analytica scandal – why is it important for us?


© 30.03.2018, Alexandra Borisova


Picture: Getty

The fundamental rejection of president Donald Trump by American elites leads to results in more and more political scandals and social unrest on a variety of occasions. Today’s aspiration of some of their representatives to remove the incumbent President from the power has brought back to public debate the acute problem for Americans – the right to privacy.

The scandal surrounding Facebook social network, which cost it 12% of the share price is basedon the premise of disclosure of the information about users without their consent. This information, collected and processed by Cambridge Analytica, allegedly led to the D. Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. Another  activity of a British company, working with big data, helped to embody the idea of Brexit. A week after the accusations against the head of Facebook M. Zuckerberg, the company announced the creation of new MIS (Management Information System), operating on the individual page of each user. However, the discrediting mechanismsin American society have been already launched.

It is worth mentioning that, in fact, there are three main participants in the scandal: Facebook – collected information, Cambridge Analytica – used this information, scientists Mikhail Kozinsky (Poland) and Alexander Kogan (Moldova) – invented how to process and systematize it. Because of the origin of the latter the scandal surrounding the Trump’s influence onelectorate with the help of Cambridge Analytica easily resonates with accusations towards Russia of interfering in the presidential elections in 2016.

How does it work?

With the development of smartphones, every user has an access to social network, regardless of  the distance from his personal computer. It seems that today it is the easiest and always available way of information exchange. One may not have time to read a newspaper during breakfast, but he almost certainly has a couple of minutes to look into the news line. Thus, about 15-20% of subscribers receive political information exclusively in social networks.

The strategy of using social networks as a global poll (global questionnaire) was invented by Michal Kosinsky, a student of polish origin, enrolled at Cambridge University in the world’s first laboratory of psychometrics and Alexandr Kogan, who  lived in his childhood in Moscow and than moved to the United States, directly linked Kozinsky to Cambridge Analytica.

Ву placing the questionnaire  on Facebook the team collected huge amount of users’ data by paying each interviewee a nominal fee. Later, they began to improve their model and by 2012 it had reached such accuracy, that on the basis of 68 Facebook likes it was possible to predict the skin color, sexual orientation and party affiliation of the user. The computer model needed 300 likes to know about the individual more than the individual’s spouse, close friend or parents.

Thanks to the development of a simple and user-friendly interface there is no need to be a researcher and even have a special computer education to collect statistical data from social networks. Not only with the help of social networks, state services or online-shops, but simply using a smartphone each of us barely incessantly transfers personal data into digital space. The phone knows how much we walk, where we go by taxi, how much time we sleep and what we eat, with whom we communicate and what worries us.

We provide all the information ourselves, including a pedometer, setting the alarm clock for the night, by making phone calls, or downloading useful applications. Thanks to psychometrics today it is possible not only to collect, measure and classify these data, but convince any one that an idea was born in his head, and for this there is no need to interact with him in person.

The way how to implement it was invented in Cambridge Analytica – a subsidiary of private British company SCL Group. Its department SCL Elections was responsible for collecting the data on potential voters, using public data on consumer behavior of users and their activity on the Internet. The users were individually affected on the global scale with the help of targeted advertising – a tool for political marketing of a new generation, as it is characterized by experts.

How is this possible? Thanks to the tools of psychometrics, when the degree of the individual adaptation to the social environment is measured by five indicators: openness to new ideas (intellect), conscientiousness (perfectionism), extraversion (attitude towards the society), benevolence (readiness for cooperation), and neuroticism (emotional stability). The information, which appears in the newsfeed, is maximally selected according to its psychological characteristics. Targeting – means that the narrowness of the impact can be different – both at the state level and at the level of a particular household.

The most widespread way to influence such microgroups – placement of contextual advertising, that differs in the smallest details: heading style, background colors, the use of audio-visual materials in order to completely adapt to the psychological types of a particular person or narrow group.

In this case it is important that conventional division into rich and poor, white and black, men and women, Democrats and Republicans etc. almost entirely loses its significance. Due to the information posted by users new categories appear: introverts and extroverts, alarmists (panic-monger) and stress-resistant people, optimists and pessimists etc. – in short psychological subspecies of society. These new categories are being shown only what they like, want or, on the contrary, what scares them and disgust with the aim to persuade them to approve or condemn any action, product, candidate or state initiative. There is no need to have huge staff in order to do this. The program itself will make a selection and necessary dispatching.

Why is it important for us?

The successful use of big data in global political processes has just begun, but potentially it carries a huge threat for any society, especially for the one that has not become proficient in this tool of influence, mainly because processes that specialists are used to manage and predict the outcomes, can no longer be subject to regular sociological analysis. As soon as Kozinsky, who has developed these widely used tools, realized its danger to the political, economic balance and world’s security, he delivered a series of lectures on the danger of uncontrolled use of big data. However, it was too late, his colleague Alexander Kogan copied the developments and hastily moved to Singapore, taking a pseudonym – Dr. Spektr.

Soon  thereafterthe world was shocked by the "unpredictable" Brexit and the victory of D. Trump. For today's political culture, it is symptomatic that the company not only does not hide its connection with leading American figures, its involvement in global political changes, including elections around the world, but also openly shows its successes on the official website. With such self-promotion, definitely, we can expect new surprises, as well as an increasing number of digital companies providing similar services. It's all going to happen until the system of regulation of uncontrolled collection and use of data is not implemented on a global scale.


1 Большие данные в информационных технологиях – совокупность подходов, инструментов и методов обработки структурированных и неструктурированных данных огромных объёмов и значительного многообразия для получения воспринимаемых человеком результатов, эффективных в условиях непрерывного прироста, распределения по многочисленным узлам вычислительной сети сформировавшихся в конце 2000-х годов, альтернативных традиционным системам управления базами данных и решениям класса Business Intelligence. [Электронный ресурс] URL: (дата обращения 22.12.2016).

2 Официальный сайт Cambridge Analytica. [Электронный ресурс] URL: (дата обращения: 29.03.2018).

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