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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

You will be judged by the networks you are in


The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted that, without being illegal, the electoral use of social networks reaches all countries. But the danger does not stop there. The personal information we provide to social networks can also be a source of discrimination or affect transcendental decisions: grant a loan, deny insurance, offer a work contract. The real power of them still scape us.

Facebook and Google have a lot of information from their users. The data that Google handles show disturbing details: the company for example stores the coordinates of all your searches in Google Maps since 2007. There are exact data of stores, homes, vacations, means of transportation or places of job. Google remembers our habits better than we remember. But it's not just social networks: it's also medical history, card payments, calls or the mobile phone trail. Experian, the company specialized in risk has credit data of 900 million people around the world.

Data is an infinite market, especially in the United States, where legislation is more permissive and there are files with personal data. The value is not only the data by themselves, but above all their combination. There are companies dedicated to gathering scattered information about a specific person. These data brokers have data on studies, work, number of children, religion, political ideas, activities, interests, use of media and web browsing.

The real fear comes when all these services are connected to each other. Facebook fed its profiles with data from brokers such as Acxiom, Epsilon, Datalogix and BlueKai, and these last two were later absorbed by Oracle, another giant in the sector. These and other companies serve data so that Facebook can offer more accurate profiles. Facebook discreetly warns: the ads that are on the web are also decided with "information that the advertisers and our marketing partners have”. Now Facebook is rethinking those associations: last week it announced that it would stop adding Acxiom variables, and dropping 33% the value of the shares of that company, according to Reuters.

In Spain there are two companies that use this type of information for policy: Target Point and Dialoga. Both have worked with several parties. "We have Spain divided into 36,000 microzones and I can classify the 1,000 where there is more snowboarding, play padel or there are many people with private insurance", says José Manuel San Millán, managing partner of Target Point. "How do the parties reach them? That’s when Facebook, Twitter or Instagram enter, it depends on what they use”, he adds.

Target Point uses this information mainly to make zonal campaign maps: where to make mail, put posters or information tents. Where the data does not arrive, statistics appear. The information available serves to infer other data, from clues that seem impossible: the time we load the phone, your misspellings, the speed with which you write or the minutes you speak. And the worst: all that can be used to infer intimate things.