The Second Age of the Cipher

By Richard Brett in Marcoms News on
What do ciphers, privacy and data have with to do with Cannes?
 
For those of you who have seen The Imitation Game, this history of ciphers dates back to Alan Turing who developed the first electromechanical machines during the Second World War to crack German encoded communication.
 
It is estimated that the ability of the allies to crack the Enigma machine codes saved 14m lives and shortened the war by two years. This was the first age of the cipher.
 
But at Cannes this year, we heard a fascinating debate: an argument between the rise of smart algorithms using our data and the benefits that can bring to organisations and governments; and the implications this has on our privacy, and the subsequent rise of new encryption technology.
 
myPersonality
 
At a talk on Tuesday Chuck Porter, Chairman, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Michael Kosinski, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Stanford University and Sabrina Siddiqui, National Political Reporter for The Guardian, discussed the modern era of politics and what this means for governments and organisations.
 
Michael Kosinski is the man who originally developed the myPersonality algorithm that can establish your personality and persuasions using your Facebook profile. This tool was then used by the Trump campaign in the recent US election to surgically target individual voters with very specific and targeted messages. When the company involved (Cambridge Analytica) started boasting about its success, it caused a huge uproar and backlash over the use of people's’ private data.
 
I took the test and it was remarkable. It accurately predicted my political persuasion, my Myers Briggs profile, education history and even my sexual orientation. You can try if for yourself here.
 
Kosinski is clear that he will not be working with companies and governments, and he is not aligned to Cambridge Analytica.  But there are plenty of organisations that will, and are, using this data. Siddiqui claimed the Ghanaian and Kenyan governments are now using the system and Kosinski said it could also be used by oppressive regimes to find out anyone’s political persuasion.  This is worrying stuff.
 
There are of course benefits to this new technology for those in marketing and communications. Keith Weed, Chief Marketing Officer at Unilever, discussed programmatic creative. In a recent campaign in Latin America for its Axe brand, Unilever created more than 100,000 different versions of the same ad, all with slightly different edits and messages to target different consumers. The campaign was 117 per cent more effective compared to its previous Axe campaign.
 
Perspectives
 
Another interesting technology discussed at Cannes was Google’s Perspectives. This is a machine-learning platform that spots harassment and toxicity on the internet and automatically removes or edits comments.
 
The New York Times has just launched Perspectives.  Prior to launch, the NY Times received 100,000 comments on its articles and posts across all platforms every single day. They have ten moderators who can moderate 1000 comments per day, or 10 per cent of the total. Perspectives automatically removes or edits all the negative or toxic comments. Since using the tool, the publication has seen a massive jump in engagement.
 
For marketers and their brands the benefits are obvious: brand damage caused by internet trolling can immediately be reduced or stopped by the automatic removal of toxic commentary.
 
The Death of Privacy
Chuck Porter argued that we are giving up more and more privacy to give us new smart information and internet based services. There is no going back. He calls this The Death of Privacy.
 
But do we care?
 
Porter talked about recent research done by MIT, which offered a slice of pizza to students in exchange for their best friends’ email addresses – a whopping 98 per cent obliged. Without question!
 
Yet Alex Cheeseman, Chief Strategy Officer of Storyful, argued people are becoming more and more aware of the usefulness and value of their personal data, and with recent large and embarrassing data breaches from companies such as Yahoo and Ashley Madison, he argued we are entering the “new age of the cipher”.
 
He quoted Jamie Bartlett (author The Dark Net), about the rise of people trying to go completely dark online. New encryption tools such as Dojo Labs, Disconnect, Confide, Signal and Telegram encrypt all your data and shield your conversations.
 
He argued people will, as data breaches continue to happen, care more and more about their data and the use of these new cipher tools will mitigate the trend for programmatic, surgical targeting.  There will be an ongoing and ever-growing tension between individuals and organisations.
 
Welcome to the second age of the cipher.
 

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