Last week at the Def Con Hacking Conference in Las Vegas chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov discussed artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, electronic voting machines were hacked into, and the US army taught hacking skills to children. Plus a group called the Online Privacy Foundation unveiled research on whether ‘dark ads’ on social media can sway political opinion. Targeting voters through social media, and customising the messaging based on publicly available data is a recipe for underhand political advertising. It allows for messaging that’s not fit for a party political broadcast to be targeted to an audience in swing areas. For example, in the recent UK election, Conservative attack ads warning voters against ‘Corbyn’s death tax’ were served to voters in the marginal constituency of Delyn in Wales.
It also allows ads to be customised for different personality types. In the primaries for last year’s US presidential election, Ted Cruz’s campaign targeted temperamental personality types who dislike commitment with the message that showing your ID to vote was as easy as buying a case of beer. A different type, the ‘stoic traditionalist’ with fewer commitment hang-ups, was served ads that said showing ID to vote was part of the privilege of living in a democracy.
How are profiles like stoic traditionalist built? It’s a case of inferring personality types based on the information freely available according to Chris Sumner, research director and co-founder of the Online Privacy Foundation. “People’s choice in music, for example, can provide clues into what their personality is like, and how they may behave in certain situations,” he says. “It doesn’t always follow that someone always behaves in that way, but over a population it gives you better than average odds. And in some cases, it is very predictive of how someone is going to behave. If someone likes dance music and hip hop, it’s less likely that they’re going to be a conservative voter or somebody with traditional tastes.”