Fashion profiling is the practice of classifying and targeting individuals based on their brand preferences. Fashion profiling uses data analysis to identify the way brands are perceived. It assesses value systems and goals and priorities via the clothes people wear. Clothing preferences were a key metric for Cambridge Analytica, whose business was constructing and selling voter profiles drawn from Facebook data.
Preferences in clothing and music are leading indicators of political leaning. Fashion data was regularly mined by political candidates during the 2016 US elections. Purchases made through each candidate’s online store were used to identify potential issues that could galvanise a voter. For example, if an individual bought an infant onesie from Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, it was a clue that said person might be influenced by e-mails about maternal health. If someone bought a beer mug from Rand Paul, he or she might respond to e-mails about saving manufacturing in America. Personal data, given incrementally to products and platforms over years, can be used to manipulate individuals in unanticipated and potentially damaging ways.
Consumers may not be conscious of the narratives embedded in their branding. Most Instagram shoppers and selfie-takers are more concerned with credit card theft than being victims of targeted yet subtle political messaging.