Why Facebook Dark Ads Aren't Going Away

Facebook ‘dark ads’ (a political advert tailored to a specific personality type that only that individual can see) have the power to swing political opinions, according to a new study. Given their effectiveness, and the availability of data that fuels them, dark ads aren’t going anywhere.

Research conducted by the Online Privacy Foundation revealed that targeting specific personality types, with bespoke political adverts that play on particular concerns, can have a very real impact on the individual on the receiving end.

Speaking with the Guardian, Chris Sumner, research director and co-founder of the Online Privacy Foundation, said that the results confirmed his concerns about psychographic profiling (an advertising method that utilizes deeply personal data to build personality profiles on people) and its impact in elections.

 

“It’s not a surprise, it’s what we expected to see [in the results]. People on one side, whichever side happens to be winning at the time, are going to say ‘no it’s not a problem’, while people who have just lost are going to see it as a big problem’.

There’s been some debate about exactly how effective psychographic profiling is and what impact it truly has on an election. Some have argued that the influence of political campaigning companies that employ these methods - Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ - aren’t as effective as widely considered.

 

But the Online Privacy Foundation’s research says otherwise. As does research by Professor Michal Kosinski of Stanford University. Back in 2012, Kosinski - who was then a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University - built a personality quiz that went viral on Facebook.

From this quiz, he was able to build detailed personality profiles on everyone who participated and gave his team access to their Facebook profiles. Kosinski and his team quickly realized that they were able to evaluate a person more accurately than one of their work colleagues based on ten Facebook likes alone. He was so concerned about his findings and how they could be used he began publishing warnings alongside his research.

Kosinski was right to be concerned. Psychographic profiling - despite questions about its genuine impact - is clearly effective for the campaigns that use it. In the UK’s last general election, millions was spent on Facebook ‘dark adverts’ alone, not to mention Brexit and Trump.

The availability of our deeply personal data, either in the treasure trove of information Facebook holds on its users, or the companies that gather and sell our data via their products, means psychographic profiling won’t be going anywhere. The pay off is too large and the risk too small.

This is the issue: our data. How easily it’s gathered, stored and sold by practically anyone - anonymised or not. As long as this practice is still possible, enforcement is meager and people are still willing to give away their information - perhaps without the full knowledge of how it’s used - then it will always be used to manipulate people in the form of advertising or something more sinister.

Source: Forbes