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CU’s personality test is likely taking more than its share of information from you. The test has its benefits, but those are outweighed by the potential for exploitation. If you can opt-out, do it.
The Clifton Strengths Assessment (CSA) is heavily pushed on incoming Freshman, complete with an email campaign and a section of the incoming student portal dedicated to it. Career services, the department in charge of the CSA, recommends its use along with a few other personality assessments. Certain mandatory classes such as COMR 1000 require it to be complete for its course material.
The CSA is a personality inventory much like the Meyers-Briggs that gives you a series of themes — your main five talents — with a short description of each. Its intention is to inform people of their talents. Some might be wondering why a person needs a digital pat on the back, but the main matter of contention here is analyzing what role the CSA plays in the collection and distribution of the gargantuan amount of personal data we give away daily.
The fact that your data is being taken by every website you visit is not a matter up for much discussion; it is just as true as the ground under your feet. There is no need to regurgitate the cliches on this issue of data collection, but for the sake of elaboration, the following things are known and gathered about you: where you are at all times, health and sleep information, your mood, orientation and of course who you talk to and what you buy. Every bit of this information supplies the multi-trillion-dollar data industry, one that is now worth more than oil.
The old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings ever-true on this topic. This is not to insinuate that the CSA is included in the realm of hell-ish results, but merely to suggest that the parties engaged in its creation and use have not fully deliberated the outcome of its implementation in this academic setting. A quick disclaimer: this assessment is not mandatory unless you take a class that engages it as a part of its course material.
The danger here is what this data can do in the wrong hands. Data-gathering group Cambridge Analytica comes to mind – a company famous for bragging that they have 5,000 data points on every U.S. citizen. Why does that matter? It matters because every person in the U.S. now becomes a target audience. Want to influence someone’s vote? Send targeted fake information and news to that person or group to get them to hate or love a candidate, similar to what the Russian government did in the 2016 presidential election. Perhaps you are an enemy of democracy, using propaganda to incite terror or uprisings, just as ISIS did in the Paris attacks. Simply send your message through existing social media to reach your audience directly, and just like that the world is saturated with disaster. These are the implications of data when used improperly. When everything you think can be handpicked by a corporation or administration, are you really in control of anything?
Despite the possible dangers presented, here is the important thing to note: the people responsible for the assessment’s implementation here at the university have no ill intentions. The university’s information on the CSA states that it is intended for students to “discover all the ways (they) can utilize (their strengths) in … academics, personal and professional development.” The university is also quick to mention that “the data (Gallup has on people) is pretty limited.”
To underestimate the amount of extrapolation possible from the CSA would be a serious misstep, but CU is right to say that this is “limited data” in comparison to the data we arbitrarily hand out by posting to social media. However, the university seems to have fallen behind here, unaware of the gravity and predicament they are putting students in. It seems that they have not taken the time to see what the dangers are in using the CSA. They have a responsibility to not only ensure the safety of this information but also to educate students on their decision to choose what happens to their data. The moral here: tread carefully online. Nothing ever goes away.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Walter Madison at firstname.lastname@example.org