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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Cambridge Analytica Edition

The Daily Escape:

Massachusetts stream after March Nor’easter – 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The New York Times and The Observer each reported on Sunday about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (FB) personal information for about 50 million users. The data were acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

Those data were subsequently passed by the researcher to Cambridge Analytica (CA), who used it to help the Trump campaign develop very accurate psychographic profiles on each FB user. They also built a powerful software program to influence choices at the ballot box, targeting them with personalized political messages. CA then helped create websites and FB posts specifically designed to appeal to those users who followed the information, and then the most effective messages were used to either get them to vote, or to stay home.

The Observer said that the 50 million profiles represented about a quarter of potential US voters.

Cambridge Analytica was at the time, managed by Steve Bannon, and remains owned and financed by Robert Mercer. In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations. The WSJ reported on Friday that Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of its investigation.

Some detail on the FB data: In 2015, a University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to use his FB research app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered a personality prediction, and was billed on FB as “a research app used by psychologists.”

Kogan then passed the data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who used the personal information to create psychological and political profiles, and then target them with political ads designed to work with their particular psychological makeup.

We know about this because Wylie just came forward to the Observer, which broke the story. The Observer reports that Wylie: (edits and brackets by Wrongo)

Was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’… [And they quote him saying] we ‘broke’ Facebook…

Cambridge Analytica also was used in the Brexit election campaign on the side of the “Leave” faction. And, The Hill reports that CA met with the Russian oil firm, Lukoil, three times in 2014 and 2015. Lukoil was apparently interested in how data could be used to target US voters.

When this story broke, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. But, The Guardian reports that Facebook had known about this misuse of its data for two years, doing nothing about it. Facebook acknowledges that the data were obtained legally, but that this use violates its policies

Until now, Wrongo has been agnostic about foreign meddling in the 2016 election. But finally, this may be where the Mueller investigation is heading: Collaboration by the Trump campaign (through Cambridge Analytica) and Russian operatives on the development and deployment of these robustly targeted digital advertisements. This becomes clearer since the Guardian reports that Kogan, the data gatherer, was also working for a St. Petersburg university while he was working for Cambridge and running his app. The Guardian also implies that he had funding from the Russian government.

This is at the center of everything. Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. All of these threads run through Cambridge Analytica.

And we shouldn’t ignore FB’s culpability. They contracted with the app developer. They transferred large amounts of data to Kogan for specific purposes. FB had the opportunity and obligation to oversee and enforce that contract, and they seem to have failed to do so.

If this happened only in the US, we might not have even heard about it. Luckily for the American public, part of this arrangement appears to be subject to EU data protection rules, so more of the story will come out.

This shows why the US badly needs a data privacy and data protection regime similar to Europe’s.

It’s time to WAKE UP America! We have to get sharp! We need to dig deeper. To go beyond headlines, and develop a real understanding of the issues confronting our Republic.

Otherwise, we can be bullshitted or manipulated, and our democracy will be lost.

To help you wake up, here is English singer, Lily Allen doing her 2009 song “The Fear”:

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore

And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore

And when do you think it will all become clear?

‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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