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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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By Hannah Marr, News Editor • June 21, 2024

Data scientist explains why big data isn’t invading your privacy

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Tatiana Cirisano.

Media Credit: Deepa Shivaram | Hatchet Photographer

Despite the growing use of big data to predict voter behavior in elections, political scientists aren’t tracking our every move – or at least not yet, a political data scientist said Tuesday.

Campaigns simply don’t pay attention to our private lives, Aaron Strauss said at an on-campus meetup of data scientists. Instead, political scientists get the majority of their findings from voting records.

“So at the end of the day, you’re going to get a more personalized campaign ad or TV ad or mailer geared towards you, but that doesn’t affect anything in your personal life at all,” Strauss said while presenting in Funger Hall Tuesday night.

Since earning his doctorate in political science from Princeton, Strauss has worked as a quantitative political consultant in the past four Democratic campaigns. His presentation, hosted by Data Science DC, touched on the development of data science in political campaigns and its implications for the future.

The data used by political scientists are made up of mass amounts of information, such as the voting history of each member of a population, that is then organized into patterns to help predict voter behavior.

Strauss explained that data science may actually help voters by providing them the most helpful information for making voting decisions. Though if abused, data science could easily have the opposite effect.

“The flipside of that is that you also might get information that is more likely to move you in a deceptive manner. So there are two sides of that coin,” he said.

Yet in the realm of data collection, Strauss said that the good effects outweigh the bad. He also said that data collectors should begin using different avenues such as Facebook to target voters, as the old method of over-the-phone polls is in decline.

But could these future ventures also raise ethical problems? As long as it is done properly, Strauss said he sees no issues with the future of data collection.

“If a campaign were able to take a list of voters that they felt could be persuaded by their message, and gave that to Facebook and said, ‘please give this message to only those voters,’ that would be a very straightforward application of Facebook that would have absolutely zero privacy implications,” Strauss said.

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