The Human Search Engine

Unsettled is how I felt as I read the article, “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down”, by Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus.  Although I am not shocked to hear that we do, in fact, leave a digital footprint, it was concerning to learn that psychometrics and a social media platform were utilized to create a database of over 220 million people.  Not only has this revolutionary method created a “human search engine”, as the article called it, but it has created a powerful marketing tool that enables companies like Cambridge Analytica to personalize advertising down to a single individual.  Just like ad targeting, which personalizes advertisements based on previous browser history, ad variations were used throughout Donald’s Trump presidential campaign, specifically 175,000, in order to target recipients at a microscopic level and in an optimal psychological matter.


It is baffling and scary to believe that companies can literally take what any individual would perceive as an innocent like or post from Facebook and use that data to create a persona.  This persona not only represents a consumer like you, but it literally knows what you would like to hear, see, and who you are as a person!  The article stated: “…an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced”.

The psychological use of data and analytics allows digital marketers to personalize advertisements at a microscopic level.  Cambridge Analytica, credited for the success of both the Brexit campaign and President Trump’s campaign, utilized the combination of three methods: the OCEAN model, big data analysis, and ad targeting.  The OCEAN model, based on five personality traits, allows marketers to get to know who their target audience is based on openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness,and neuroticism.  Big data analysis allows them to sift through any patterns of behavior or interactions found through their digital history and finally ad targeting allows marketers to personalize to each personality presented from the OCEAN model.


Ad- targeting definitely plays a major role in my daily activity as I scroll through various apps and sites.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t see a Lord & Taylor ad on the side of my laptop screen.  This article confirmed my initial thoughts on the usage of the internet and technology, we are being unconsciously monitored.  Alexander James Ashburner Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, also brought up a very good point: traditional mass marketing is dead or most likely, on the verge of extinction.  Nix was quoted saying: “My children will certainly never, ever understand this concept of mass communication.”  The future of digital marketing looks cut-throat as many competitors will implement these methods in order to utilize minuscule details to grab each individual’s undivided attention.  My housemate was talking about advertising today and how he almost felt cheated since it’s the marketers job to sell you on an idea, filling you with this need to obtain whatever it is they’re selling.  My housemate has yet to read this article… if only he knew what the future of digital marketing holds with big data analysis, he’d run for the hills screaming.


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