How Can Social Profiling Aid in the Hacking of Elections?

How Can Social Profiling Aid in the Hacking of Elections?

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Social profiling for hacking of elections

The Facebook Data Breach and its alleged involvement in selling the data of around 87 million Facebook users to Data Mining Firm, Cambridge Analytica, has sent shockwaves across the globe. So much so that many erstwhile faithful Facebook users either already have or are considering pulling the plug on Facebook.

And where did it all start from?

The purported hacking of the 2016 US Presidential Elections.

It is alleged that social profiling and targeted digital campaigns were used to sway voters in support of Donald Trump. So, let’s have a closer look at what exactly happened during the 2016 US Presidential Elections? And, what made the hacking of elections possible?

What does Cambridge Analytica do?

Psychographic Profiling to Assist Political Parties & Businesses

Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm whose specialization lies in ‘psychographic’ profiling. Psychographic Profiling is creating a personality profile of an individual using the data collected from online sources. Cambridge Analytica’s services are directed at political parties and businesses who intend to “change audience behavior”.

A Data Aggregator

Cambridge Analytica is a data aggregator. It collects data from various sources ranging from social media platforms such as Facebook to its own audience polls. This consumer data combined with behavioral science enables them to profile people and identify the right audience that can be targeted with marketing campaigns.

Founder, Alexander Nix had stated back in 2016 that every individual in the United States had close to four or five thousand data points on them. And that Cambridge Analytica engaged in the profiling of every adult in the US which summed up to some 230 million people. Now that’s called the power and span of profiling!

A Global Election Management Agency

The firm was established in 2013 as the subsidiary of a company called SCL Group that called itself a “global election management agency”. Alexander Nix had once stated that the main motto behind establishing Cambridge Analytica was to fill up the lacunae in the US Republican political landscape that became quite discernible when Mitt Romney faced defeat in the 2012 presidential elections.

Cambridge Analytica’s Involvement in the Alleged Hacking of Elections

Creating a Hyper-specific Audience Category

Cambridge Analytica is a ubiquitous name in the political world when it comes to managing digital election campaigns. In the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it was consulted by the team spearheading the Trump campaign for handling their data operations.

Based on demographics, interests, and behavior,Cambridge Analytica profiled millions of people in the US. This enabled them to find out the voters who were most likely to be easily persuaded. Daily online polls across 17 states enabled them to deduce the most pressing issues that people were concerned about. They were also able to figure out the emotional connection points with respect to every audience set.

The successful social profiling enabled them to target hyper-specific groups of people through social media and online advertising.

“The Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result”

Cambridge Analytica itself claims that digital campaigning through social profiling helped boost their company’s donations and played a key role in Trump’s victory in the elections.

In fact, Cambridge Analytica issued a press release titled “The Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result” just 3 days after Donald Trump took over as the President-Elect of the United States. This was a modest portrayal of their involvement in the victory-run!

In an article featured on Swiss magazine, Das Magazin, following Trump’s election win, Alexander Nix was quoted as saying, “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven.”

The Breakthrough for Successful Digital Marketing Campaigns – Behavior Analysis

Smart marketing strategies are key to ensuring a brand’s penetration into the purview of the consumer. An analysis of customer demographics opens a wide window for understanding buyer behavior. And, the dawn of the digital age has made it easier to understand consumer preferences.

Which products appeal to a certain gender? How frequently are people belonging to a certain age group likely to buy a product? What is likely to appease the sentiments of people? Social profiling enables marketers to answer such questions that enable them to target the right audience in the right manner.

Behavioral analysis has proved to be more efficient in proper segmentation and targeting than a simple demographic research. It gives marketers a holistic understanding of a customer’s journey which combined with analytics can help highlight the problems in the marketing campaign.

Social Profiling for Hacking of Elections

The much-talked-about General Elections in India are due in 2019. Drawing parallels to the 2016 US Presidential Elections that was slammed for having prejudiced voters through crafty digital campaigns, it is all the more imperative to be cognizant of how social profiling can be used for hacking of elections.

Election security is no longer confined to voter registration databases and voting machines but also encompasses the vulnerabilities in the virtual world.

Social media platforms and online advertising mediums are being relentlessly exploited to deliver targeted and sectarian content. And why blame data mining companies for this when we ourselves agree to the ‘terms and conditions’ and put out our data across various digital platforms?

Using Micro-Targeting In Digital Marketing Campaigns

Social profiling enables micro-targeting. And, micro-targeting enables the penetration into hyper-specific market segments. Micro-targeting can be unscrupulously used for malvertising in which specific firms and individuals can be targeted based on their browsing history, likes, and shares. Malvertising is a portmanteau that means ‘malicious advertising’. It involves inserting malware infested or malicious advertisements into legit online advertising webpages and networks.

How is Cache Memory Leveraged?

When was the last time you cleared your cache memory? This is something that most of us don’t bother to clear or even learn about. The cache memory makes it possible for digital marketers to target you for advertisements! In fact, a single login to Facebook across multiple sites allows them to collect your browsing data on all other sites.

Through your own personal information that Facebook has a record of, and the pages you like, share and comment on, you let data miners profile your personality. This eventually paves the way for ads that you see based on your how you are as a person!

It is targeting such as these that can be used by organizations for the better or for worse. When used in election campaigns, as alleged to have been used for the Trump campaigning, such methods or malvertising is what leads to the hacking of elections.

A Statistical Insight into how Social Profiling was used in the 2016 US Presidential Elections

An investigation into the 2016 US Presidential Elections by a Senate Committee revealed a systematic pattern of purchase of Facebook ads by Russian firms to foment racial and political divisiveness in the US. More than 120 million people were estimated by Facebook to have viewed these ads on its platform.

Even Twitter and Google have obtained evidence of the purchase of political ads from Russian firms in their preliminary analyses. Eventually, it was established that Russian propagandists did purchase politically fueled ads to stoke racial, religious and xenophobic sentiments.

Findings of Mie Kim’s Research of the 2016 US Presidential Election’s Digital Campaigns

A journalism professor, Mie Kim, actually went ahead to capture data from the ads received on real Facebook accounts in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. The findings of her research revealed some hard-hitting facts.

The states that were highly targeted by Trump’s digital advertising campaigns were the ones that had their horns locked with big electoral bastions.
The intensity with which these campaigns targeted Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin was far more than other states.
These targeted digital campaigns revolved around the core issues that divide American voters –such as abortion, nationalism, immigration, LGBT issues, gun policies, candidate scandals, and
Demographics were carefully considered while targeting. For instance, Wisconsin voters were targeted with gun ads 72% more frequently than the national average. Similarly, 87% of the immigration ads were targeted at white voters!
So how is the combination of data collection, big data analysis, social profiling and micro-targeting going to affect the voters in India for the upcoming general elections is best left to time and speculations.

Incognito Forensic Foundation – One of the Premier Digital Forensic Labs of India

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a private forensic laboratory based in Bangalore and Chennai in India. It specializes in providing cyber and digital forensic services to Law Enforcement Agencies for cyber crime and other criminal investigations. IFF Lab also assists the government and other public and private organizations with solutions for cyber security analysis and implementation.

Additionally, IFF Lab also supports organizations in the installation of state-of-the-art cyber and digital forensic laboratories equipped with the latest digital forensic tools and technologies. They deploy their range of products for setting up a variety of digital forensic labs – from a basic lab to mobile and cloud-based high-tech cyber forensic labs.

Get in Touch with IFF Lab for Cyber Crime Investigations and Cyber Security Management.