Who’s Getting to Know You?

Getting to Know You

Who’s Getting to Know You?

Big Brother? Crazy Cousin? Or Someone else?

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

We are social beings by nature. We interact with others. In each relationship we build we start by getting to know each other. We start by asking questions, spending time together, and learning more about each other. Gradually we learn what makes each other tick, what we like, how we’ll react to things, and what we need.

Getting to know you,
Putting it my way,
But nicely,
You are precisely,
My cup of tea.

Making A Connection

Discovering these things involve social cues and discovering details we don’t even know we’re doing. Things like taking in what books are in your bookcase, what your favorite color is, what makes you laugh, how you interact with others, all these little nuances that we notice subconsciously.  And give up subconsciously.

But building relationships take time, and some situations don’t lend themselves to the luxury of time, or the patience for it, or the investment in it. In some instance having a way to short cut the process of building a relationship and get to the point of being able to understand what makes someone tick is important and helpful.

Getting to know you,
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you,
Getting to know what to say
Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day.

How Connections are Made

In the 1980s, as the era of self-discovery, self-expression, and self-enrichment in all forms was taking hold, the discipline of Psychology was seeing a huge surge and acceptance. It was also finding a new foothold in areas across industries, research, and academia. One of the areas of psychology that gained popularity was that of psychometrics, or psychographics.

Psychometrics (or psychographics) assess individuals to allow us to understand and predict how people will react based on Five traits, referred to as OCEAN traits for the acronym:

  • OCEAN Personality TraitsOpenness – how open you are to new experiences
  • Conscientiousness – how much of a perfectionist are you
  • Extroversion – how sociable are you
  • Agreeableness – how considerate and cooperative you are
  • Neuroticism – are you easily upset

If you have insights into these main qualities in another person, there’s a good chance you understand them on a personal level and can understand what makes them tick. On its own, it’s good information, and allows us to better understand each other, interact, get along, and be both sympathetic and empathetic.

It’s a study and a practice that is so engrained in our lives that we do it subconsciously when meeting new people, but once spelled out, began to be taught and perfected in all types of settings. Often used on a personal, individual level, it can also be used on a larger level. Leadership and business schools teach this approach to mentor and grow employees to increase productivity, in marketing to understand what gets people to act, in psychology, medicine, teaching … in any setting that involves people, including those that including matching and influencing.

Online Connections

Once we started to interact online, the game changed. While not anonymous in our online behavior, we assume we have a control over what information we give out, and what we guard. But we’re not as guarded as we think. We leave trails all over the place, just as we do in person, without realizing it.  These cues are collected using cookies. Those little bits of breadcrumbs we leave tell companies where you are, what type of device you use, what browser, what you search on, what your interests based on your browsing history are, and if you have a profile, like Google, and are logged in, they capture the information from there.

But still, that’s only basic information, much like general demographic information. It’s useful, and can be combined with general census and geographic profiles to generalize your profile, which helps in basic targeting and messaging. At this point in the data collection phase you’re very 2-dimensional. You’re not an individual, you’re more like a stick figure, to those collecting the data.

Most Popular Websites
Most Popular Websites

But capturing that information is not an invasion of privacy. By agreeing to using the sites, you agree to the terms, which include capturing that information, storing it, and using it. Here’s how that works in a marketing.

Have you read Google’s Privacy policy? Amazon’s? Facebook’s? Ebay’s? Me neither. At least not the whole thing. Want to know how many privacy policies I’ve written? Hundreds. Want to know what they say? We use cookies, you are responsible, we won’t sell your information (mostly).

Ugly Shoes

Brand want to know you,
Brand want to know all about you.
Brands want to Lure you.
Hoping you’ll buy those shoes.

Ugly Shoes Remarketing AdBut you’re not ready to buy them. You need to think about it first, so you leave the site. Then as you go along your day and visit different sites, you start noticing the shoes more, in ads. These ads are called remarketing ads, and they follow you to remind you about your interest, and make it very easy and quick to get back to them to buy them. The little arrows on them show that they’re ads, too, so you know you’re seeing the ad because you expressed an interest in either the website or even the specific products. It’s all pretty straight forward (and now you know why you see advertisements for places you’ve visited, and that others who use your computer will see them, too. )

Wait, don’t panic. I’ve got a secret for you.

There’s no one sitting around saying hey, this woman has god-awful taste in shoes, but hey, let’s see if we can get her to buy them anyway by showing her an ad, and reminding her to go buy them.  It’s all automated. Sure, if someone were interested, they could probably pull up your data set and see it, but honestly, there’s a 99.9999999% chance of that never happening, of a human being in outside your home ever finding out you looked at those shoes online. You’re just not that interesting.

Your Data Privacy

It’s important to know that while it can be a little unnerving at first when you realize that you might be being stalked by products or websites, it’s not personal, it’s targeted. The difference is nuanced, your BEHAVIOR is being targeted, not you.

And you said they could.

Internet PrivacyI know, you’re diligent about using your credit card online (by the way, doesn’t matter, just watch your statement, most credit card fraud issues are on the credit card company, not you.) You’re careful about giving out your social security number, and you don’t store information or passwords in your browser (except, you know, for some, like Facebook, or Google, but not for the bank, right?)

Ugly Shoes Ad Want to take a wild gander about which one has more valuable information to sell? It’s not your bank. No, seriously, check your balance, really, it’s not.

Google sells access to you (not your information) regularly, which is how you see those ads all the time, even those for those ugly shoes you looked at. And you KNOW they make a fortune through ad sales and paid searches, so you know that basic information is valuable.

Imagine if they had more. Imagine if they could tie your OCEAN scores to it. Or even more.

Brands want to know you
Brands want to know all about you.
Brands want to Lure you.
Brands want you to buy their shoes.

Brands want to reach you
Showing your products daily
So you will realize
You need them to.

Social Engagement

OCEAN Profile QuestionsAs we have become more social online, we’ve become more comfortable in interacting with others, and providing more information. That’s where the psychographic information comes in to play. We’ll readily give that information up. Obviously, we’ll willingly give up the information for private sites such as dating sites, where the OCEAN traits are used to find us our soul mates. But we work to carefully guard our information on other sites, right?

Social networking sites such as Facebook are, as you might have guessed, a treasure trove of information about you. The information you’ve got there would be incredibly useful to companies, and therefore valuable. But aside from the profile information, incorporating likes, shares, content, commenting into useable datapoints would be a quagmire. Of course, it would also be a goldmine.

Meet Michael Kosinski, PhD.

His website says:

Michal is a psychologist and data scientist. His research focuses on studying humans through the lenses of digital footprints left behind while using digital platforms and devices. http://www.michalkosinski.com/home

Social Media Personality Data

He’s the guy who figured out how to take all your information on Facebook and distill it down into these psychographic datapoints. While he is a scientist and academic, he of course has taught and mentored students and protégés who have gone on to other research and business ventures, including starting data research companies. Companies who exist to collect and analyze data, and then sell access to that data to companies all over the globe.

But that’s not an issue for you, right?. You check your privacy settings and are careful what you post publicly, so you have nothing to worry about, right?

Well … about that ….

Dancing Naked in the Window at Night

Ok, this is super duper important here. This next bit is about information you just offer up for no other reason than for entertainment and amusement issues, silly Facebook surveys.

You’ve totally taken them. Everyone has.

  • What’s Your IQ?
  • Which Mean Girl character are You?
  • Can You Pass a Citizenship Test?
  • What Color is Your Aura?
  • Where Should You Live?
  • Only 1 in 1,000 people can score above a 50 on this quiz

Social Media Surveys - Personal Data Collection Tool

These surveys are designed with questions to unlock the OCEAN traits to further understand who you are. Every single time you take one of these additional information is collected, paired with information from your profile (including your likes, interests, profile, friends lists, etc.). Yes, EVERYTHING. Because you told them they could. By clicking through and continuing as your Facebook profile, you are authorizing them to access all your data. And they do, instantly. (That’s why it takes a few moments for the survey to load!). Now that they have that data, they will add your survey answers, added to whatever other info packets these companies have amassed.

That is key.
“Whatever these companies have amassed.”

But don’t panic, they don’t care if you like Nickelback and they won’t tell anyone what’s in your private albums. They don’t care, and no one sees it. They only care what is of interest to you, to find out what you respond to, so they and their clients can direct messages and content to you that you will resonate with you, and get you to act.

This isn’t necessarily nefarious or sneaky, it’s merely data collection. People aren’t looking at YOU, only algorithms and computers are. The issue arises only in how the data is used.

Once they get to know you.
It becomes free and easy
So when you see them
You see words you’d say.
Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly you’re the focus
Because of all the ideas that reach you
Like they’re talking to just you
Day by day

So Why is this Information So Valuable?

Knowledge is Power. Big Data is Knowledge.

Knowledge is Power - Data is Knowledge

Care to take a gander at how many companies and interest groups would be interested in targeting Facebook users who are highly likely to share information that conforms to their interests? Oh I know, I know, {feverishly raises hand} I know the answer to that one.

All of them.

Marketing ContentNow, none of this is a big deal and it’s usually innocent enough. You see a cute picture, video, or story and share it.

And chances are your network of friends and connections will see it, and because they’re YOUR friends, they’ll like it and share it, too, since it aligns with their interests.

Then brands will target with similar content, because you respond and share it, and your friends have now been targeted on their own, because they’ve either engaged with it or shared it. You’ll all start to see more tailored content, too. Similar pictures, videos that other people who have profiles like you have liked.

And then you’ll start to see overlap of similar types of stories in your newsfeed from your friends and networks. It all becomes more personalized.

What if it’s a Different Kind of Brand?

We like to think about Big Data in terms of marketing. But what if it’s used for other purposes?

But what if a company wants to get out a story, that seems to be news because it looks like news or a heartwarming human interest story of someone in need of help? You read the story and share it. And now you start seeing other news stories in your feed and on other sites, but you don’t necessarily know it’s ads.

What if it’s a story suggesting a Presidential Candidate you don’t like has Parkinson’s? What if you get those several times a day, and then see variations over and over again in your news feed from your friends and network? You’ve had confirmation from multiple sources, but no validation. And now you believe it. So if you’re questioned, the easy, simple response is, say it with me,

“multiple media outlets have reported ….”

Same story. Same Source. Multiple variations to make it look different. And a lie spreads like wildfire, by people who are likely to spread it.

How did we get from Kittens to Clinton?

Information Dissemination – AKA Fake News & Propaganda

Remember those ugly shoes? How they follow you around? Well, NOW you’re going to see more news stories that you don’t realize are ads, because they look like news clips. That’s called “Native Advertising”. You’ll see it in “Also Shared” suggestions. See the example below. Notice down at the bottom the little sponsored copy with the little blue arrow!

Native Advertising - Content Advertising

But you tried to validate the story, to see if it’s true. Well, hmmm, you clicked on the link, you’ve been to the site, the cookie is in your history, and now when you search in a search engine to find out more about the story, take a wild guess what your search results will show. Yep, they will be targeted based on your behavioral history, interests (called affinity groups) and search terms?

Oh, I know, I know, {waves hand feverishly}, “corroborating” news stories. Variations of the story, placed on other websites, with similar names to real news outlets, and other important, official sounding names. (such as abcnews.go – not a real site, but sure sounds like one!)

What the Hell?

Yes. What. The. Hell.

Remember Dr. Michael Kosinski, and that he had students who went on to other ventures? Well, one of those students started a consumer data and targeting company, Cambridge Analytica. They have another office at Oxford, which also serves customers globally, including several with close ties, both overtly and covertly with the Kremlin. They also have loose networks throughout Eastern Europe, who develop and host rapid fire content, that is used to targeted ads delivering fake news content for one of their high-profile clients in the 2016 US Presidential election.

(Disclosure: one of the board members, Mercer, is also the largest donor to the campaign, and another, Bannon, a de facto campaign manager.)

Fake News

This was the most public and promoted use of this type of targeting for questionable purposes, using questionable tactics. Let me be clear, the USE of the data was not the problem, it was using it to disseminate propaganda, known fake stories, lies, that is the issue.

In fact, targeting people based on their views to get a message out is actually a very legitimate way of using the data. The lies were the problem.

The content was awful, poorly written, barely better than those Nigerian Prince email scams, with headlines that even the National Enquirer wouldn’t run, hosted on fake news sites that seemed to not even care enough to look legit. But people ate it all up.

The content should have been the weakest link that tipped us off. But it wasn’t. We were. While some fell for it, others ignored it, brushing it off for what it was, never imagining others would believe it.

Next time the content will be better.

We have to be ready.

Think Critically | Trust, but Verify.



ADDENDUM: How to be ready:

Media Literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms. We’re all pretty good at accessing, but clearly we need refreshers in analyzing and evaluating the veracity  of it.

Statistics show that upwards of 70% of people say they get their news from Facebook. But Facebook is a platform, not a source. The news stories you read on that platform come from a variety of sources, and not all is news, or what we’ve come to understand as News Reporting. Some of these stories you see come from respectable outlets, both print and television, as well as digital sources, while others are purely made up content. Learn to check sources, and know the difference between opinion, editorial, and journalist reports.

Just because you agree with it doesn’t mean it’s news. Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean it’s a lie.  Political bias does not determine whether a story is real or fake.

So think critically. Research and validate sources. Always. If you see a questionable source and they’ve quoted someone, go find that person. Click on the source, see if it really says what it says it does (FoxNews is notoriously bad for this type of bullcrap!) Find another article that is from a more reputable journal, or go on Twitter to see if the person is there and has specifically mentioned. Never before has it been easier to reach primary sources for verification. But that right there makes it astonishingly easy to have basic lies believed more widely. Simply because it is EASY to disprove, folks think it MUST be true.

(⇑ this is a fake tweet)

And remember, people have MAD skills, from video to Photoshop. So please, find trusted, verifiable, sources, and primary sources. And know the difference between Opinion and Editorial pieces, and Journalism.

For more information on media literacy and understanding how to validate content and sources, visit:

Media Bias Chart - 1

Media Bias Chart - 2