It is disturbing what others know about us. Recently, BBC reported a data leakage of information “… from personal details, the data also contained citizens’ suspected religious affiliations, ethnicities and political biases, such as where they stood on controversial topics like gun control, the right to abortion and stem cell research”. Reportedly, the data cache leaked from a server holding details relating to almost 200 million US citizens. The data have been accidentally exposed by a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee.
In other words, a political party bought a huge dataset with the intention to better understand what the voters are thinking – in order to manipulate them.
It is already outraging that such data are collected, sold and bought. What is even more appalling is that such data are used by political parties to increase their influence and power. Sure, we have learned from surfing the web that all clicks are being watched and used for advertizing. Algorithms try to guess what age and gender we are and offer goods that they think we might like and buy. (This does not explain to me, male and over 50, why I am targeted with ads for maternity clothing.). We may have come to accept this as one of the displeasing side effects of the capitalistic system.
However, the thought, that such tools are used by political parties is spine-chilling and scary. What is the point of forming an independent opinion if it is manipulated? What is left of our free will and the right to choose? What is the value of a “free democratic system” that can be manipulated easily?