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As a graduate student in Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, a department that studies online psychological assessment, he and his classmate David Stillwell distributed a short personality quiz on Facebook that told people how they rated among psychology’s “big five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN, for short).Upon receiving their results, quiz-takers had the option of sharing their Facebook profiles with Kosinski and Stillwell. As you tally “yes” and “no” answers, the book directs you to new sections based on your responses.The book has been described as a Freudian Choose Your Own Adventure, which is accurate enough: It’s like quizzes and other oddball questionnaires that tell you which city you should actually live in, which ousted Arab Spring ruler you are, and which Hogwarts house you belong in. election, a secretive data firm hired by Donald Trump’s campaign boasted that it has been using quizzes for years to gather personal information about millions of voters.
But a psychological need for self-reflection gets complicated when the mirror also snatches up information for other people to use.* * *In 2008, Michal Kosinski joined a research project that helped revolutionize how data about people is collected.But these new online quizzes have a dark edge that their analog predecessors didn’t. Its goal: the creation of digital profiles that can predict—and possibly exploit—Americans’ values, anxieties, and political leanings.Whether this firm, Cambridge Analytica, has actually used predictive profiles to influence people isn’t certain; reports suggest it hasn’t, at least not directly.It didn’t take long for the two researchers to amass the largest-ever collection of psychometric scores paired with Facebook profiles.“It was surprisingly easy to get people engaged,” says Kosinski, who’s now a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s graduate school of business.
I’m adaptable, but to a fault; I rarely see danger ahead. “As you travel across the network of questions and data by your private track, your story unfolds and your character is explained,” the introduction teases.