Today Facebook is releasing a tool that will allow its users to see if their Facebook profile was harvested by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook says 87 million people were affected, 71 million of them in the US.

It makes for a compelling story about egregious personal privacy harms committed in pursuit of electoral victories. In response, Facebook has clamped down on access to its users’ data, and in his testimony to Congress this week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises to make political advertising on the platform more transparent.

But focusing solely on the purloined data is a mistake. Much more important are the behavioral models Cambridge Analytica built from the data.

Even though the company claims to have deleted the data sets in 2015 in response to Facebook’s demands, those models live on, and can still be used to target highly specific groups of voters with messages designed to leverage their psychological traits. Although the stolen data sets represent a massive collection of individual privacy harms, the models are a collective harm, and far more pernicious.

In what follows, I argue that Cambridge Analytica and its parent and sister companies were among the first to figure out how to turn behavioral algorithms into a portable worldview—a financially valuable, politically potent model of how humans behave and how society should be structured. To understand Cambridge Analytica, the anti-democratic vision it represents, and the potentially illegal behavior that its techniques may make possible, follow the models. Read more from…

thumbnail courtesy of