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Big data’s power is terrifying. That could be good news for democracy

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Has a digital coup begun? Is big data being used, in the US and the UK, to create personalised political advertising, to bypass our rational minds and alter the way we vote? The short answer is probably not. Or not yet.

A series of terrifying articles suggests that a company called Cambridge Analyticahelped to swing both the US election and the EU referendum by mining data from Facebook and using it to predict people’s personalities, then tailoring advertising to their psychological profiles. These reports, originating with the Swiss publication Das Magazin (published in translation by Vice), were clearly written in good faith, but apparently with insufficient diligence. They relied heavily on claims made by Cambridge Analytica that now appear to have been exaggerated. I found the story convincing, until I read the deconstructions by Martin Robbins on Little Atoms, Kendall Taggart on Buzzfeed and Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg.

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