My friend once said: “Vietnamese on the Internet is like a school of fish, everyday they head towards a new bait”. And these repeated events just had to recall me of this recent renowned story.

There is this university professor in the UK who came up with an algorithm that helps to analyze and predict human thoughts based on their behavior on the Internet. He then transfer this algorithm to a startup for commercialization, whose services focus on online data analytics to find marginal customers, then run professionally design visual ads, including fake news to push them to think like the party that paid the startup.

At first, this startup, via its branch, sold the service to NATO, and analyzed Facebook data of youths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eastern Europe… to find targets that are easily impressionable by ads, so as to ensure their not joining the opposite side and other activities against the opposing party. While this tool is categorized as a weapon and banned from exporting by the UK government, it was still sold by secret contracts to the world for political parties to influence elections.

For example, they can run ads that call for youths in Trinidad & Tobago to not go vote, as these people have the tendency to vote for parties with African origins, resulting in a win for the Indian party. With its stellar services, this company also participated in others like the 2015 Argentina election, the 2009 Trinidad & Tobago election, the 1997 Thailand election, the 2010 India election, the 2013 Malaysia election, the 2012 Italy election, the 2013 Kenya election, the 2011 Colombia election, the 1994 South Africa election, the 2004 Ukraine election, the 1998 Indonesia election, and so on (according to the movie “The Great Hack”).

Their two largest missions, however, have to be the 2016 America Presidential election, and the “Brexit” discussion in the UK and Northern Ireland. According to the media, this company has collected up to 5000 types of data from each American voter, and they only need to change 77000 votes to tip the election results in their favor. And of course, we need not discuss their overwhelming success. And yet for such services in his campaign, the total amount Donald Trump paid was a meager $5.912.500.

By now, everyone must have realized the company to be Cambridge Analytica. Their scandals were later discovered, and their CEO was investigated for a crime. However, he was still allowed bail, the election results were still valid, and Brexit still happened. Facebook was also investigated and fined 5 billion USD for charges of allowing third parties to utilize its user data and spread fake news.

After such revelation, Cambridge Analytica’s previous CFO had answered in an interview that, there was plenty of other fish in the sea, and they were just unfortunate. Perhaps this is true, as such services require nothing but user data and behavior analysis algorithms. Both, sadly, are not out of reach for professionals in Vietnam, or even China and other nations with benefit clashes.

Therefore, every morning as you wake up and see your news feed covered in a news, ask yourself if there is anything that somebody wants from you?

Dang Viet Hung – Bioscope Vietnam

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