That’s what Rayid Ghani,a chief scientist for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign,said Tuesday at a Future of Privacy Forum.
“What is going to disappoint you guys is that we didn’t really use that much private data in the campaign,” said Ghani,who focused on analytics and data.
He spoke at a Future of Privacy Forum event,held at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center,which focused on big data and privacy. The Future of Privacy Forum promotes the responsible use of data.
Data that Ghani and the campaign team used in new ways in politics are mostly publicly available voters file collected in every state. The team predicted three things about people with this information: 1) How likely voters were to support Obama. 2) How likely voters were to be persuaded to support Obama. 3) How likely voters were to vote.
“Who cares about data?” Ghani said in answer to a question about how the model worked.
He said the campaign’s use of data did not violate voters’ privacy. With a first and last name,he said he could predict a number of things about individual voters,including their ethnicity. The campaign also collected ages,ZIP codes and addresses. With that data,he said,he could predict other things about voters.
“People are assuming that you can predict everything about everyone 10 years in advance with big data,but algorithms are not as deterministic as some think. It is more about probability,” Ghani said.
Ghani and his team created new ways to target messages to voters using Facebook and other social networks.
Now he is using those techniques in a new company he founded after the election,edgeflip.com,a Chicago-based nonprofit described on its website as a way to “let non-profits and social-good organizations better use social networks and analytics to increase their reach,raise more money,recruit/mobilize volunteers,and do targeted outreach and advocacy.”
Other speakers at the forum warned that Americans provide a lot of data about themselves that is widely available,including checking in on Foursquare or putting their children’s photos on Facebook.
“It is clear a lot of work need to be done to understand and then protect the values of data,” Jules Polonetsky,a co-founder of the Future of Privacy Forum said. “Surely there is a lot to debate around what the values are.”
Reach reporter Sihan Zhang at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.