Hard numbers – whether from political polls, market-research surveys, or statistical analyses – have traditionally been viewed as independent proof points detailing the habits and preferences of voters and consumers.

But David Carroll, Associate Professor/Media Design at the New School's Parsons School of Design in New York, believes individual profiling by digital behemoths like Facebook and Google, when paired with complex data-analytics solutions and granular online targeting, are turning these figures from neutral indicators of meaning into a potent source of soft power for electoral candidates and businesses alike.

"Data has become political," Carroll said at the 2017 Global Marketer Week held by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in Toronto. "One of the things that's become really clear is that the same targeting tools that are used to sell Unilever products are used to target voters and affect the foundations of democracy.