How politicians and advertisers learned to harvest Canadians' data
Published Sunday, March 25, 2018 7:38AM EDT
Chris Wylie gives a talk entitled 'The Most Important Whistleblower Since Snowden: The Mind Behind Cambridge Analytica' in London, on March 20, 2018. (Matt Dunham / AP)
OTTAWA -- Canadians have long been the targets of data harvesting, from credit cards keeping tabs on users' shopping habits to the personal information on warranty cards being used by companies to advertise replacement goods. In recent years, the availability of big data and breakthroughs in computing technology have allowed advertisers and political actors to crunch huge amounts of data and, through social media, micro-target narrow demographics in their bid to either boost sales or expand their political power. Here are a few milestones in how the use of the internet, social media and data mining have evolved in politics:
Howard Dean's bid to win the Democratic primary ahead of the 2004 presidential election may have been unsuccessful, but it sets the stage for the future of online campaigning, from fundraising to mobilizing voters and volunteers. While data harvesting didn't figure into Dean's strategy, experts point to his envelope-pushing methods as a milestone in the internet as a tool for online engagement.
The newly established Conservative party launches CIMS, or the Constituent Information Management System -- a database that will serve as a collecting bin for millions of Canadians' names, contact information and political opinions amassed through phone calls and door-to-door canvassing. The database allows the Tories to tweak their platform and target their message to voters in a way never before seen in Canadian politics.
Mark Zuckerberg launches the social networking site Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room. The company will go on to develop a business model that involves selling advertisers targeted access to its millions of users based on personal information divulged in their profiles.
Barack Obama is elected as president of the United States. His campaign's acumen for data and social media outreach is praised as one of the key factors to his electoral success.
The Arab Spring erupts in North Africa, which sees thousands of citizens take to the streets to demand change in waves of both violent and non-violent protest. Social media is seen as a critical factor to the demonstrations taking place, in the way it allowed activists and citizens to communicate and organize.
Justin Trudeau becomes leader of the Liberal party in a campaign that involved enlisting the help of software from NGP VAN, the same campaign technology and database company Obama used in his presidential run. The Liberals employ the same strategies of micro-targeting voters to form government in the 2015 federal election.
Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. Shortly afterwards, controversy erupts over allegations Russian trolls bought ads on various social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram, that targeted users based on their online profiles.
Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling firm based in the United Kingdom and co-founded by Canadian Christopher Wylie, is accused of improperly acquiring the private information of tens of millions of Facebook users and using that information to build so-called psychographic profiles to then target users for political gain, including during Donald Trump's run for the presidency.