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The things you say in front of your phone aren't exactly private, and the integrity of your vote could be at risk.

There it is again. You swear you were talking with friends about needing some new shoes, and now all you see online are shoes. You’re not crazy —  your phone is recording what you say while out with friends, on the job and even while you mumble in your sleep. Our digital world has a new market, and you’re for sale. 

Specifically, people are sold to those who want to influence their lives. In the eyes of Big Tech, each individual is a box of Poptarts ready for the checkout line. When one searches online, puts info in a Google drive, or says something while one’s phone is on and listening, they put themselves in the grocery bag. Even worse, it doesn’t stop there. Matching up what one says with things they might want to buy is one thing, but controlling who one votes for is the bigger picture. 

The infamous name in this rising venture is Cambridge Analytica, a digital team that couldn’t escape the headlines as the contractor for a surprising 2016 presidential campaign. With a data set of 50 million Facebook users, the group made history. Using personalized, reactionary and sophisticated targeting tools, the group bombarded voters they called “Persuadables” on Facebook. Accountability was sought-after during the exposed breach of trust, but in the end the world’s most popular robot Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg sat in front of old people who struggle to even unlock their phones – the United States Senate.

This technology is doing more than collecting massive amounts of data. Now, it goes beyond what the public may believe data collection can do. By conducting studies, Facebook discovered a way to predict if one’s romantic relationship is going sour before the first thought of “this isn’t working” floats across their mind. Revealed by a former employee, Facebook users were test subjects for a psychoanalysis performed by the behavioral scientists of Silicon Valley. Researchers have known and studied the potential of public data collection, and it’s why free apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter are and have been valued in the billions. 

Remember, you’re not crazy. This issue is prompting legislation. Pro-privacy rights legislators on Europe have passed regulations aimed at protecting the privacy rights of European citizens. However, here in the land of the free, American legislators have failed to follow suit. One might be getting nauseous with the 2020 presidential election already rearing its head, but I think it’s all pointless. If the U.S. doesn’t have a serious push for data rights, its people are ignoring the puppetmaster pulling the strings. 

Jory Woods is a Junior Political Science Major. Contact Jory at woods3jm@dukes.jmu.edu.