Monday, February 8, 2016

Davies' "Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users"

So, this is a story of data mining and Mechanical Turk and data privacy and political campaigns. Lots of good stuff for class discussion about data privacy, applied use of data, etc.. It won't exactly teach your students how to ANOVA, but it is a good and timely discussion piece.

Short version of the story: Ted Cruz's campaign hired a consulting firm (Strategic Communications Laboratories, SCL) to gather information about potential voters. They did so by using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to recruit participants. Participants were asked to complete a survey that would give SCL access to your Facebook account. SCL would then download all visible user information from you. And then they would download the same information FROM ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS who did not consent to be involved in the study. Some mTurk users claim this was a violation of Amazon's Terms of Service.

This data was then used to create psychological profiles for campaigning purposes.

Discussion pieces:
-Would you be mad if your data was accessed thusly?
-Did the Cruz campaign violate ethics by gathering data from individuals who did not consent to having their data collected?
-Do you think that such data collection and research should be subject to an IRB? If yes, were IRB rules violated (the right to withdraw from a study, informed consent).