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On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees to answer questions on a variety of subjects with regard to Big Data.

Did we know how short he is?

Censorship

According to The Daily Caller, questions were relatively anodyne, until Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stepped up to the plate.

Cruz asked Zuckerberg about the number of conservative and religious pages Facebook has hidden or blocked (emphases mine below):

Cruz noted the number of examples of Facebook censoring conservatives, including labeling conservative commentators Diamond and Silk as “unsafe,” hiding stories about the IRS targeting conservatives and blocking over two dozen Catholic pages.

“To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias,” Cruz said. “Do you agree with that assessment?”

Zuckerberg, of course, said that his social media platform tries to be unbiased.

Then, Cruz asked about left-leaning pages:

“Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood?” Cruz shot at the tech billionaire.

“Senator, I’m not,” Zuckerberg conceded. “But let me just — ”

“How about MoveOn.org?” Cruz continued.

“I’m not specifically aware of those,” Zuckerberg again admitted.

There was more:

Cruz also pointed out that Zuckerberg is unaware of the political breakdown of his employees and the 15,000-20,000 people who police content for the site, leaving Zuckerberg struggling to explain why conservatives should not be worried that the social media site is apt to block their content.

Hmm. Zuckerberg is highly aware of at least some of his employees’ political leanings.

AI for ‘hate speech’

The Daily Caller was one of several media outlets carrying the story that Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) would detect ‘hate speech’.

Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) asked him if conservatives would be targeted:

Zuckerberg did not have an answer.

Of course not, because the answer clearly ‘yes’.

Sasse pressed Zuckerberg on the subject:

“Can you define hate speech?” Sasse asked one of the world’s most powerful CEOs bluntly.

“Senator, I think this is a really hard question,” Zuckerberg said, “It’s one of the reasons why we struggle with it.”

“I am worried about the psychological categories,” Sasse replied. “You used the language of safety and protection. We have seen this happen on college campuses. It’s dangerous.”

Sasse cited a poll that said a high proportion of college students believe the First Amendment is “dangerous” because it “might hurt someone else’s feelings.”

There are some passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel,” Sasse said. “Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your platform?

Did Zuckerberg feel uncomfortable?

After a long pause, Zuckerberg said, “I would not want that to be the case.”

Yeah, sure.

Sasse did not let up:

It might be unsettling to people who’ve had an abortion to have an open debate on that, wouldn’t it?” Sasse pressed.

Zuckerberg said that other countries are putting such laws in place. (If so, bad news.) He then said:

I think America needs to figure out and create the principles we want American companies to operate under.

The Daily Caller said that Sasse looked less than impressed by that response.

Zuckerberg — and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey — want to change the paradigm and suppress the First Amendment by saying that their platforms fall under private enterprise. Therefore, users have to play by their rules.

Yet, courts have ruled against conservative businesses that do not want to accept every customer coming through their doors.

Talk about a double standard.

Political data mining

On March 22, after the Cambridge Analytica data flap hit the media (Brexit and Trump campaigns), I wrote about the mining of Facebook data with during Obama’s 2012 campaign. That was even bigger, and even the former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America called it ‘creepy’.

The Daily Caller also noticed that everyone is ignoring the 2012 Obama campaign’s data scrape:

… little was made of the fact that the Obama presidential campaign in 2012 used the same tactic with the social network. Former Obama campaign staffers have openly bragged about how Facebook turned a blind eye to the practice and even congratulated them. (RELATED: Obama Staffer: Facebook Knew Presidential Campaign Improperly Seized Data, Looked the Other Way)

Whilst acknowledging Cambridge Analytica, Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) had his chance to question Zuckerberg on the massive Obama data harvest:

“Somebody asked you earlier if it made you mad about what Cambridge Analytica did,” Tillis noted, saying Zuck should be “equally mad” about the Obama campaign.

“When you do your research on Cambridge Analytica, I would appreciate it if you would start back from the first high-profile national campaign that exploited Facebook data,” the senator said

Facebook has been silent on the Obama campaign scraping for data.

Exactly!

This double standard has been in operation for years (see ANDERSON 4 SENATE’s tweet; TheLastRefuge’s will feature next week):

Tillis said that the Facebook employee who mined the Obama data shouldn’t be working there:

I also believe that that person who may have looked the other way when the whole social graph was extracted for the Obama campaign, if they are still working for you, they probably should not.

He concluded:

At least there should be a business code of conduct that says that you do not play favorites. You are trying to create a fair place for people to share ideas.

Except Facebook, Twitter and Google do not care about fairness. They are trying to shape the way people think — with some dastardly success, too.

Appalling user agreement

The Daily Caller reported that John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) bluntly criticised Facebook’s user agreement:

Kennedy said, “I do not want to have to regulate Facebook. I will. A lot of that depends on you.”

Kennedy called what Zuckerberg has done “magical,” before noting that “there is some impurities in the Facebook punch bowl.

He did not stop there:

The senator then got to the point, “I say this gently. Your user agreement sucks.”

Kennedy told the laughing hearing room that Facebook was covering their “rear end” with the user agreement before bluntly stating, “I am going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it…Tell them you want it written in English and not in Swahili.”

The two then got into ‘another heated exchange’ over access to private data.

Zuckerberg apologises, nothing changes

A March 26 article I cited in yesterday’s post from web hosting site easyDNS, ‘Should You Delete Your Facebook Page?’, stated that Facebook has often apologised in the past but nothing changes. It appears to be company policy. On the Cambridge Analytica controversy:

Mark Zuckerberg has issued yet another “Mea Culpa” on CNN, and Facebook will take out full page ads in newspapers to apologize to the public. Yet, by now, “Groveling Zuckerberg apologies” are just part of the Facebook playbook, as Liz Gannes observed back in 2011, after Facebook had just settled with the US Federal Trade Commission over still more privacy violations:

“At this point, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pattern on privacy is clear. Launch new stuff that pushes the boundaries of what people consider comfortable. Apologize and assure users that they control their information, but rarely pull back entirely, and usually reintroduce similar features at a later date when people seem more ready for it.”

It becomes clear, as Futurist (and easyDNS member) Jesse Hirsh made this point on Steve Pakin’s “The Agenda” over the weekend: “Facebook ships with all privacy enhanced settings disabled” – further, my personal findings are that they use obfuscation to make it harder to disable data sharing settings. You have to jump through hoops to do it.

Zuckerberg knows exactly what’s going on, which shows what contempt he has for Facebook users.

Zuckerberg’s possible 2020 presidential run

In August 2017, news emerged that Mark Zuckerberg is considering running for US president in 2020.

CNBC reported:

Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have hired Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster, adviser to former President Barack Obama and chief strategist of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, as a consultant for their joint philanthropic project, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The pair also hired David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential run; Amy Dudley, former communications adviser for Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; and Ken Mehlman, who directed President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

The couple plan a ‘listening tour’ of all 50 states.

Imagine if Zuckerberg goes ahead with this and consider all the Facebook data he has at his disposal.

The public would not know if he were data mining or not, although, surely, he would be.

Facebook users, beware. Do you really need that account? If it’s to share socio-political articles and opinion, why not start a (non-Google) blog featuring short posts with relevant links instead?

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Is it time to delete your Facebook account?

If so, actor James Woods recently tweeted a Wall Street Journal video which tells you how to go about it. The lady talks quickly, so you might have to replay it or pause it as you go:

While the Wall Street Journal is behind a paywall, this video is not.

The downside to Facebook is that, even if you delete your account, all your data belong to them:

The website hosting company easyDNS’s CEO responded to Woods with a link to an article on his website:

His article has excellent information, including a section on Messenger, excerpted below:

Facebook harvests your contact lists from your mobile devices (don’t believe me, go here)

There are people in that list that I do not know. There are phone numbers from people who work for my competitors in there. My daughter’s (age 11) cell phone number is in there.

You can “delete” all this here: (but as you know Facebook never actually deletes anything).

Then when you go to “delete” all your contacts you get a message

“We won’t be able to tell you when your friends start using Messenger if you delete all your uploaded contact info.”

They say that like it’s a bad thing. But there is also this curious sentence:

“If you have Continuous Uploading turned on in the Messenger app, your contact info will be uploaded again the next time the app syncs with Facebook servers.”

I had deleted the Facebook mobile app from my phone a long time ago. I kept messenger installed because sometimes customers would contact easyDNS or Zoneedit via our Facebook pages for support.

But writing this I wanted to turn off “continuous uploading” in the app. Despite this Facebook help article not explaining how to do it, while this third party article from 2016 did.

It turned out I had already disabled continuous uploading but I was surprised to find that the messenger app had defaulted permission to access my phone’s microphone.

After this exercise I simply deleted the Messenger app from my phone as well.

I’ve never had a Facebook account. From my time in IT marketing during the DotCom boom 20 years ago, it was apparent that Big Data was on its way. Data harvesting and targeted ads were already being talked about. Both have been with us for some time.

The best thing is not to be on Facebook at all, but, for those with a presence, why continue to feed the beast?

This week everyone’s been talking about the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal with regard to the Trump campaign.

I wrote about it the other day but with the intention of pointing out how many of us are leaving our data open to manipulation by third parties.

Of course, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is only a big deal because it is connected to then-candidate Donald Trump, a Republican.

The much larger scandal involves Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, when Facebook was perfectly happy to let Democrats mine their users’ data.

Former Obama for America manager speaks

On Sunday, March 18, 2018, Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, tweeted about an IT project used in his 2012 re-election campaign, Taargus:

And this:

Carol Davidsen received many interesting responses, including these:

Incidentally, other third parties have also tapped into social media data:

Looking at Obama’s re-election campaign, on March 19, IJR.com posted two articles about Ms Davidsen, ‘Ex-Obama Campaign Director Drops Bombshell Claim on Facebook: ‘They Were on Our Side’ and ‘Ex-Obama Campaign Director: It’s ‘Unfair’ Facebook Let Us ‘Ingest Entire Social Network of US’.

Wow, that’s quite an admission to make.

The first article displays her tweets (posted above) as well as these two:

Davidson tweeted that ‘the other side’ are at it, too.

Yes, but probably not to the extent that the Democrats have been.

The second IJR.com article refers to a 2015 video of a 23-minute talk Davidsen gave that year about Big Data, a term she herself uses, and how such information is analysed:

Because she has been working with Big Data for so many years, it is easy for her to be blasé and say that the average social media user has nothing to worry about. She did, in fact, say that such information could be misused, but she did not think it had been to date.

The problem I have with her reasoning is that, by the time data are being misused, we will be so accustomed to being analysed by third parties, we won’t even care. Therein lies the danger.

She also discussed buying advertising near the end. That part went over my head a bit, but a 2012 article in Time, ‘Obama Wins: How Chicago’s Data-Driven Campaign Triumphed’, explains what his campaign manager, Jim Messina, did (emphases mine):

Data helped drive the campaign’s ad buying too. Rather than rely on outside media consultants to decide where ads should run, Messina based his purchases on the massive internal data sets. “We were able to put our target voters through some really complicated modeling, to say, O.K., if Miami-Dade women under 35 are the targets, [here is] how to reach them,” said one official. As a result, the campaign bought ads to air during unconventional programming, like Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, skirting the traditional route of buying ads next to local news programming. How much more efficient was the Obama campaign of 2012 than 2008 at ad buying? Chicago has a number for that: “On TV we were able to buy 14% more efficiently … to make sure we were talking to our persuadable voters,” the same official said.

Obama campaign’s use of Big Data in 2012

The link Davidsen tweeted to (see above) is for a November 20, 2012 Time article explaining how Obama won his re-election thanks to Big Data from social media: ‘Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters’.

This is the campaign on which that Davidsen worked.

A few weeks before Election Day, Obama’s people wanted to get phone numbers for younger potential voters. Most of these men and women had mobile phones but no land line:

For a campaign dependent on a big youth turnout, this could have been a crisis. But the Obama team had a solution in place: a Facebook application that will transform the way campaigns are conducted in the future. For supporters, the app appeared to be just another way to digitally connect to the campaign. But to the Windy City number crunchers, it was a game changer.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with that until:

the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists.

Did their Facebook friends know that? Unlikely.

It was a resounding success:

In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”

The campaign called this effort targeted sharing. And in those final weeks of the campaign, the team blitzed the supporters who had signed up for the app with requests to share specific online content with specific friends simply by clicking a button. More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind.

This is concerning because it could be abused in future:

A geek squad in Chicago created models from vast data sets to find the best approaches for each potential voter.

Big Data can change behaviour:

A study of 61 million people on Facebook during the 2010 midterms found that people who saw photos of their friends voting on Election Day were more likely to cast a ballot themselves. “It is much more effective to stimulate these real-world ties,” says James Fowler, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, who co-authored the study.

Conclusion

The Time articles are very upbeat: Obama’s people are geniuses for using Big Data to win.

Four years later, a Republican wins the presidency with a sophisticated use of social media information. The world condemns this because Republicans were involved.

Only the Left can play.

My past two posts have discussed Big Data:

A Google Anon explains social media bots (March 19, 2018)

The alarming world of Big Data (March 20)

Today’s post looks at Big Data’s role in crime solving. Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, sometimes use Google data to investigate crimes. They are not the only law enforcement agency to do so. Austin, Texas police were able to obtain information from Google in order to trap the 24-year-old man who was sending incendiary devices around the city.

On March 15, 2018, Raleigh’s WRAL.com posted an article about the subject. Google has received an increase in law enforcement requests for the Silicon Valley giant’s data (emphases mine):

Google’s most recent transparency report shows that there were about 5,200 search warrants requesting user information in the U.S. in the first half of 2017, an all-time high. User information requested through subpoenas and other court orders accounted for more than twice that number. The company produced at least some data in response to requests in the first of half of 2017 about 81 percent of the time.

The article says that it is unclear whether Google data actually helped Raleigh police in four criminal cases:

Google declined to say whether it released data in any of the Raleigh cases, and it’s unclear from the search warrants exactly what information was seized or whether it’s been effective in moving the investigations forward.

Of the four cases, only one has resulted in an arrest.

Tyron D. Cooper was charged Oct. 13 with the murder of [Nwabu] Efobi, the taxi driver gunned down in east Raleigh. But the related search warrant shows data wasn’t received from Google until months later.

Cooper’s attorney, Christian Dysart, declined to comment on the case.

Two issues are at play here. The first is the amount of data people inadvertently give Google via their accounts and GPS. The second surrounds the manner in which the data are requested.

On the first issue, Google makes money by selling location data, which are:

immensely valuable to Google, one of the reasons the company collects and stores the information on users of both its Android operating system and, in some cases, mobile apps such as Gmail.

Most people with Google accounts probably do not realise how much they are telling the company — and others — about themselves:

From an average smartphone user’s perspective, it’s a little surprising once you start to learn the full scope of information about our locations and whereabouts and activities that companies like Google hold,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

People are mistaken if they think that turning their devices off turns off the tracking:

Users can switch location tracking off to prevent the device from pinging GPS satellites. But if it’s on a cellular network or connected to Wi-Fi, the device is still transmitting its coordinates to third parties, even if they’re far less accurate than GPS.

In the past, at least, turning off that technology has been no guarantee of privacy.

Business and technology news site Quartz discovered late last year that Google continued to track devices even when all GPS, Wi-Fi and cell networks were supposedly disabled. The tech giant says it has updated its software to stop the practice.

For its part, law enforcement makes frequent use of cellular network data to build cases.

That’s not so bad, we think. After all, they’re only catching criminals, not ordinary people. However, last year in Raleigh, police created a digital cordon around certain serious crime scenes:

On a satellite image, they drew shapes around the crime scenes, marking the coordinates on the map. Then they convinced a Wake County judge they had enough probable cause to order Google to hand over account identifiers on every single cell phone that crossed the digital cordon during certain times.

In at least four investigations last year – cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 – Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records. These warrants often prevent the technology giant for months from disclosing information about the searches not just to potential suspects, but to any users swept up in the search.

These can be quite large areas:

The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses. In the Efobi homicide case, the cordon included dozens of units in the Washington Terrace complex near St. Augustine’s University.

The account IDs aren’t limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan.

“At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people,” Wessler said. “Location information is really revealing and private about people’s habits and activities and what they’re doing.”

This appears to be a legal method, as it concerns public safety:

Hourigan said Raleigh police investigators use these search warrants on a case-by-case basis and consider Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

“This technique is used in extraordinary circumstances because the department is aware of the privacy issues that the tactic raises,” she said in an email March 9.

According to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, police are following best practice by:

targeting narrow areas and specific time windows. She points out that data investigators receive from Google contain only anonymized account numbers without any content included.

We’re not getting text messages or emails or phone calls without having to go through a different process and having additional information that might lead us to a specific individual,” Freeman said.

On the other hand:

After five years as a Wake County prosecutor, Raleigh defense attorney Steven Saad said he’s familiar with police demands for Google account data or cell tower records on a named suspect. But these area-based search warrants were new to him.

This is almost the opposite technique, where they get a search warrant in the hopes of finding somebody later to follow or investigate,” Saad said. “It’s really hard to say that complies with most of the search warrant or probable cause rules that we’ve got around the country.”

And:

[Jonathan] Jones, the Elon professor and former Durham prosecutor, expressed similar concerns after reviewing the warrants. In particular, the fire and sexual battery cases didn’t present evidence that the arsonist or the attacker had a cell phone, he said.

“In those cases, the evidence provided to establish probable cause seems very thin to me,” Jones said. “These amount to fishing expeditions that could potentially snare anyone in the vicinity with a cell phone, whether they were involved in the crime or not.”

In conclusion, perhaps we need to be more aware of the information we’re giving out every day and how it could be used:

Most modern phones, tablets and laptops have built-in location tracking that pings some combination of GPS, Wi-Fi and mobile networks to determine the device’s position.

This is no doubt only the tip of the Big Data iceberg. We would probably be shocked if we knew the full story.

Yesterday’s post was about social media bots, one aspect of what I call Big Data.

Today’s is about another Big Data component: how data harvesting is used.

On March 17, 2018, The Guardian published the latest article in its Cambridge Analytica File series. ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower’ is fascinating.

The Guardian is looking into Cambridge Analytica because the firm was hired for Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s campaign in the US. The paper is trying to make the firm look like a bad guy, even though the Left have more powerful social media and data tools to hand — not to mention censorship. That said, Britain’s Electoral Commission and a select committee of MPs are investigating Cambridge Analytica as is Robert Mueller in his stateside investigation of Russian collusion. This is because of alleged use of Facebook user data.

In the US:

Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

In the UK:

Last month, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): “Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?”

Simon Milner: “No.”

Matheson: “But they do hold a large chunk of Facebook’s user data, don’t they?”

Milner: “No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Personally, even if Big Data and social media didn’t exist, there would have been a Brexit vote and a Trump victory regardless.  Furthermore, to still loathe Steve Bannon now is pointless. He was fired from the White House in 2017. He left Breitbart in January 2018. He’s annoyed various people greatly, from President Trump to the Mercers (more about whom below). Rebekah Mercer bankrolls Breitbart.

What I found interesting about The Guardian‘s article was how social media data are gathered, analysed and used. The genius whose idea led to the founding of Cambridge Analytica is 28-year-old Christopher Wylie. He was 24 at the time. Now he has turned whistleblower, largely because of the results of the UK referendum and US election in 2016.

Before getting into Big Data, the Left also use the same analytical tactics. Wylie learned from Obama’s campaign team (emphases mine below):

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

For me, the big issue here is how data from social media users are used to shape public thinking.

Cambridge Analytica is far from being the only firm to do this. The primary customers for such data analyses are likely to be national security agencies, the military and defence companies:

at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinski’s PhD and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

The article says that, in 2013, a paper on the subject was published. Christopher Wylie read it and offered to replicate the technique for Britain’s Liberal Democrats, who were starting to become a political non-entity. Wylie made a formal presentation for them with the pitch that such an analysis could bring them more new voters. However, the Lib Dems were not interested.

That said, there was a silver lining. One of the Lib Dems Wylie was in touch with introduced him to a company called SCL Group:

one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

Wylie was hired as research director for the SCL Group, which had defence and political contracts:

Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. He worked from SCL’s headquarters in London’s Mayfair.

He first met Steve Bannon in 2013. Bannon, the then-editor-in-chief of Breitbart came to England to support Nigel Farage and his pursuit of a national referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

Bannon, Wylie says, found SCL in an interesting way:

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Wylie and his boss Alexander Nix flew to New York to meet the Mercers. Robert Mercer had no problem understanding the SCL concept, as he had worked in AI (artificial intelligence) himself. He had also helped to invent algorhithmic trading. The pitch Wylie made to him was based on:

an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

Wylie had to prove to Mercer that such a statement was true. Therefore, he needed data. This is where another company, Global Science Research (GSR), entered the frame:

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour …

Alexander Nix appeared before Damian Collins, an MP, in February 2018. He downplayed GSR’s work for Cambridge Analytica in 2014:

Nix: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Collins: “They have not supplied you with data or information?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “At all?”

Nix: “At all.”

Yet, The Guardian states:

Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwell’s research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. “Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.” (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

Meanwhile, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. That’s scary.

This is how the project worked — simply incredible and rather alarming:

Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

Wylie told The Guardian that Facebook knew this was going on by looking at their security protocols. The article says Kogan reassured Facebook by saying the data were for academic use.

In any event, Cambridge Analytica had its data:

This was the foundation of everything it did next – how it extracted psychological insights from the “seeders” and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didn’t do for Trump has revolved around the question of “psychographics”, but Wylie points out: “Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldn’t you use it in your biggest campaign ever?”

Wylie left Cambridge Analytica in 2014. He was not involved in the company’s work on Brexit or for the Trump campaign.

Facebook didn’t really think about the data mining until 2016, when Cambridge Analytica were working for Ted Cruz during the GOP primary season. The Guardian‘s Harry Davies wrote an article in December 2015 about the use of Facebook data in his campaign:

But it wasn’t until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that “GSR was not authorised to share or sell it”. They said it must be deleted immediately.

“I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,” says Wylie. “Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.”

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Facebook commented on the data:

Facebook denies that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules. Both Aleksandr Kogan as well as the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

The aforementioned Dr Kogan is still employed by Cambridge University as a senior research associate, but he also has a position in Russia:

what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

Social media data have turned into a powerful tool to be exploited. I have had several conversations over the past few years with Facebook users, none of whom minds who has access to their personal details: family members, friends, likes, dislikes and interests. To know that this information has been mined under the aegis of academic research then used for other purposes boggles the mind.

On March 15, 2018 a Google employee posted on 4chan about social media bots, which someone helpfully tweeted.

This is the image of the message:

We knew there were bots, but it is interesting to read more on how they work.

The original 4chan thread is here (don’t click 4chan links unless you are prepared for hard core language and sentiment). Google Anon came back on another thread to say more, including this:

!!2wzZpinn91R (ID: fRrhwWd0) 03/15/18(Thu)11:37:40 No.164044578

Quick summary:

Google is using twitter bots to push narratives to persuade the government.

Google accused conservatives of being bots so they could ban them, even though they knew they aren’t bots. The strategy was to blame others for using your own technique.

Google is also using these fabricated twitter numbers are financial reporting, which effects stocks and advertising revenue.

Google also broke anti-trust laws by only allowing “google voice” to be the only free SMS to validate accounts.

On a third thread, someone — probably not Google Anon — posted this about a huge AI (Artificial Intelligence) project called HORUS (emphases mine):

(ID: jT5XRhYq) 03/15/18(Thu)16:18:59 No.164065749

HORUS (SourceForge project name AI-HORUS) is a system for knowledge acquisition, hypothesis generation, inference and learning. It is designed to be a highly interactive, multi-user, internet-based environment that will be accessible to a diverse community of users (public-access or membership basis) for search, comparison, and evaluation of many media types. Users will collaboratively build and develop the content of the knowledge bases therein, creating resources that can be employed by both human users and “artificially intelligent” agents for conducting expert-level searches, evaluations, comparisons, data mining, content extraction and summarization on a variety of media. Such media will include documents, articles and other text-based objects but also non-text media as well including images, audio and video. An important and in fact the central component of HORUS is a complex structure of functions and databases known as the Syntopicon which has aspects of its data structure and functionality in common with semantic networks, topic maps, dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias but which is quite novel in its approach to accumulating information from users and external automatic-access sources and in its mechanisms of both storing and operating upon the information collected or generated internally.

It sounds scary. Think of the sinister possibilities that could arise from this.

I hope this goes the way of the Tower of Babel.

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