Today not only posters, events and television debates decide the outcome of elections. Those who want to win the votes of the citizens must personally address them offering solutions for their individual problems. This applies particularly to swing voters and voters who are still undecided. In 2016, the US election showed that a personality profile based approach enabled a new way to influence voting decisions. We’ll explain where similar policies represent a danger for any election in any country and whether we can resist.
If you trust many of the reports in the news and magazines, Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the presidential election can be traced back to one thing above all else: the systematic evaluation of online data and a tailor-made approach to the electorate. Trump’s election campaign, especially on the Internet, was roughly based on two strategies: psychometrics and targeting.
Fans of the Monk series are more conservative, while fans of The Walking Dead are generally worried about immigration. That may sound silly, but statistically, such generalizations are strikingly accurate. Behind this is the so-called psychometric method, which determines the character of a human being on the basis of five different factors:
The personality can be derived from targeted tests, but also through daily online behavior. Not only Facebook likes, but also online purchases, visits to websites as well as movement and communication patterns, allow surprisingly accurate conclusions. According to psychologist Michal Kosinski of the University of Stanford (California) 68 data points of a person – such as visited websites, surfing times and buying habits – result in a 95 percent accuracy in determining their skin color.
Almost as high are the hit rates in sexual orientation (88 percent) and political sentiment (85 percent). Intelligence, religious affiliation, alcohol, cigarette and drug use can also be identified.
Addressing broad target groups such as women over 40 or residents of a particular small town entails high wastage and poor results, it’s just too broad a target. On the other hand, it is more efficient to define small groups on the basis of personality profiles and target them with a laser-focused approach. In this way, for example, it would be possible to search for older, conservative change voters from Miami who are dissatisfied with their life situation or for young environmentalists in San Francisco.
In the next step, tailor-made election messages are formulated for the most critical groups in order to manipulate these groups in a targeted manner. According to some reports, Trump used precisely this tactic. For example, after the third TV debate with Hillary Clinton, his team mailed 175,000 variations of its arguments, explicitly tailored to the various audiences, including posting on Facebook. He gave the impression that he was speaking to all people from the soul, announcing precisely what they wanted to hear.
Can the process be transferred to other elections? eBlocker CEO Christian Bennefeld can well imagine: “Today, every Internet user has unknowingly a comprehensive personality profile that can certainly be used for election manipulation. In Germany, we have stricter data protection laws on paper – but unfortunately, they are worth nothing.” Users give companies such as Google and Facebook the green light for total personal surveillance by agreeing to their website privacy terms and conditions.
In the course of time, these profiles, which are so attractive to politicians, are wholly and comprehensively assigned to individual persons and groups of people. In principle, it is easily possible for parties to arrive at such personality profiles on a large scale. But they have to get access to the data, and that’s only possible through the data collector!
“The popularity of individual parties in the general election may not significantly be affected, but one or the two percentage points swing in either direction may affect the final results” warns Bennefeld.
Micro-targeting and “filter bubbles” identify the target audience. They can then be manipulated by the limitless offer of news, opinions, and graphics are displayed with what they would approve and be satisfied with. Content which could provoke criticism or its contradiction are hidden. A ready-made idea is quasi-offered to the audience, who only needs to join the “conversation.”
In fact, the German parties are increasingly relying on personal conversations at the front door of the home. Sounds a bit old-fashioned, but is not that far from the “modern” Internet. Because the election workers usually know in advance exactly who they are dealing with. Whether conservative or liberal, single or family man, good earner, unemployed or retired – before ringing the bell, they have the right topics ready to discuss with the target voter. “It’s not just Internet professionals who have the opportunity to utilize this profiling,” advises Bennefeld.
So the answer to the question, “What can I do to stop the Internet know more about me and my personal preferences?” If you want to prevent this flood of information, you must take action. To effectively protect your privacy on the web, you need to block all tracking services, ad servers, and data collectors. The smart solution is the eBlocker. The device hides your IP address, stops data collectors and blocks advertising – conveniently for all Internet devices on your home network and with no complicated software installation.