Cambridge Analytica

I was wondering what all the fuss was about this Cambridge Analytica story, until I came across this detail:

The London-based company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.

“Russia hacked the election” hasn’t worked, so the ruling classes need to come up with another excuse to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s election and explain why Hillary lost. As people are pointing out:

[W]hat’s odd is that people don’t seem to mind data being plundered if the beneficiaries are the perceived good guys.

Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, for instance, used one of Facebook’s APIs (application programming interfaces) and data to target voters. It’s clever and complicated, but what it boils down to is that Obama’s data scientists were able to persuade about a million Facebook users to connect their profile to the Obama campaign website. They were then able to access the profiles of these people, which also showed who their friends were. From this they were able to construct real life social networks, which enabled them to target many, many more potential Obama voters. “If you log in with Facebook, now the campaign has connected you to all your relationships,’ boasted a digital campaign organiser.

What Cambridge Analytica did, in essence, was the same as the Obama campaign in 2012 – though they had a smaller sample group of 250,000 to model from.

[W]hen Obama did it, such practices were written up in glowing terms. His campaign’s social media tactics were widely lauded for harvesting ‘the power of friendship’. But when Trump or Brexit do it, apparently, it’s evil.

This certainly explains why the BBC is running it as front-page news, and probably will for the rest of the week.

Liked it? Take a second to support Tim Newman on Patreon!
Share

35 thoughts on “Cambridge Analytica

  1. What’s really worrying about this are the claims that the information commission doesn’t have enough power because they are having to get a court order to search CA’s servers.

    Do we really want another arm of the State to have unfettered rights to raid companies and individuals premises? There’s already too many.

  2. I was amazed that there is something called an Information Commissioner in the first place. I was even more amazed to find they could ask for search warrants. It all sounds rather Soviet to me.

  3. Obama’s massive data collection project was reported as being ‘hip’. It just showed he was far more progressive and with it than his opponents.

    The moment Trump starts doing it, its evil.

  4. 1984 is turly here, even if they haven’t got all the details sorted out yet.

    It is really worrying when you have kids aged 20 (x2) and 25. What sort of world are we leaving them?

    The UK banning normal people from entering and speaking! The danger of HATE speech was obvious and has led to what some of us always thought it was intended to lead to.

    My leftie friends are convinced that fake news is a FAR-right thing. Everything else is FAR-right. I must be FAR-right.

    Depressing

  5. Will top up my FB shares today, occasionally there is a silver lining to the madness of the progressive world.

  6. They have so far proved to be remarkably incompetent at organising their slow motion coup. Or maybe they are just patient. As I’ve said before, they are giving Trump strong motives never to relinquish office, which makes me think they may be reckless fools. But they are the same sort of idiots who thought that attacking Iraq was a grand idea.

    Indeed, probably they are the same sort as those who thought Vietnam was a good idea. Never forget that “the best and the brightest” was originally intended as sarcasm, both by its British originator (1769) and its American recycler (1972).

  7. As I’ve said before, they are giving Trump strong motives never to relinquish office, which makes me think they may be reckless fools.

    As I’ve said before, they are lucky that Trump is a billionaire in his seventies and not some youngster like Macron who also models his career on Putin.

  8. Isn’t the issue a data privacy violation not that they helped Brexit or Trump.

    While the media obviously don’t miss a beat to talk about Brexit and trump when that’s not what is being called into question.

  9. Isn’t the issue a data privacy violation not that they helped Brexit or Trump.

    The issue is data privacy, yes. The reason *this* story on data privacy is given any prominence whatsoever is because it might help with the narrative that Trump won the election unfairly.

  10. Was there a similar data privacy violation in the Obama election FB campaign?

    No, I don’t think so – and the difference may be important (although not obvious to a non-techy; it wasn’t stolen, for example). But the narrative is all about the nefarious means by which the data was used and what other methods Cambridge Analytics claim they can use to influence elections (which are irrelevant to Trump, but inserted at points in the story to suggest otherwise).

  11. “same sort as those who thought Vietnam was a good idea”

    Situations and people can change very quickly. Robert McNamara was always against a war in Vietnam and had convinced JFK of this so much so that it was off the table. Following JKF’s assassination LBJ decided he was going in and requested McNamara’s full support, which he got due to some kind of sense of duty that McNamara felt that he had to the new President, something that conflicted McNamara for the remainder of his life.

  12. Facebook’s entire business model is based on selling user data to marketers of various stripes. If anyone thinks this is really about “data privacy” and not politics, they’re remarkably naive.

  13. Facebook’s entire business model is based on selling user data to marketers of various stripes.

    Yes. If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

  14. I agree with JerryC that this is all about politics, progressives are going to make an uneven playing field and try to hobble Republicans in future elections. It is pearl clutching by left wing types so they can influence Facebook and get company to censor right wing even more than they do already.

  15. Robert McNamara was has always claimed to be against a war in Vietnam and claims that he had convinced JFK of this (who, conveniently for Big Mac, cannot be questioned) so much so that it was off the table.
    FTFY
    Revealed preferences, and all.

  16. Just for clarity’s sake, my understanding is that the Facebook data hack ended up giving data on about 50 million users to Hillary’s campaign, while Trump’s campaign ended its contract with CA before the election.

    But, funnily enough, if you read the headlines, you get the impression that the hack benefited Trump and Brexit.

  17. “I get wearied by the endless attempts to portray Kennedy as a political saint. He was quite the opposite.”

    The point I was making was about McNamara and political leaders and their fragility both mentally and physically and how quickly things can change, full circle, whether it be the assassination of JFK or LBJ’s struggle to grasp the situation in Vietnam.

    As for your claims of sainthood and mental and physical weariness, best that you never try to carry any of this load.

    In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam 1st Edition
    by Robert S. McNamara

    JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass

    The improbable triumvirate: John F. Kennedy, Pope John, Nikita Khrushchev by Norman Cousins

  18. The point I was making was about McNamara and political leaders…
    Sorry, Bardon – I thought you were making quite a different point.

  19. I’ve just been listening to a BBC program about the Mueller indictment.

    That and what’s being said about CA it strikes me that they just went around telling people what the wanted to hear and there’s no evidence of anyone changing their minds and voting Trump when the meant Hillary.

    It’s like all those AI driven adverts you get after you’ve purchased something, just noise designed to wind up SJWs.

  20. bobby b – Facebook data hack?

    Near as I can tell, the Obama campaign used data from people who signed up to give data to the Obama campaign, whereas CA was using data from people who thought they were just taking a personality test. Have I got that right?

    If so, the “Obama did it first” line isn’t going to fly. Even though, yes, we’re only hearing about this because of Trump, Brexit etc

  21. Matthew has it right.

    There has been no data breach – the 50 million people involved quite happily signed up to allow this outfit to see their profiles.

    Neither Facebook nor CA have anything to answer for here. you sign up for some quiz and part of the terms are that you share your profile. That’s what’s happened.

  22. And now we have people loudly proclaiming that they’re going to get off Facebook because It is evil. But they’ll proclaim it on Twitter, so they have learned nothing.

    Those who had anything useful sucked off Facebook were already idiots.

  23. “There has been no data breach – the 50 million people involved quite happily signed up to allow this outfit to see their profiles.”

    Had they, though? I’ve never read Facebook’s Ts & Cs but AIUI this started off as 50k people taking a survey and then it was their friends and friends of friends who had their data hoovered up and used outside Facebook’s Ts & Cs both with users and companies who get access to carry out those surveys.

    Of course the real issue is Trump, but nobody’s saying that.

  24. “Facebook data hack?”

    I only call it that because CA found a cute way to (legally, by the TOS) tap into the data of all of the friends of the people who had given CA permission to access their friends. I know it wasn’t a true breach, given that the TOS of FB basically say “nothing to you, everything to me”.

    And, when FB figured out CA was pulling tremendous amounts of data compared to their ostensible purpose, they let them continue, because (in the words of a FB employee) “we were on their side.” It still strikes me as a hack, though, in the sense that they tickled out the data using means that FB had not knowingly granted to them.

  25. I’ve a funny feeling this could destroy Facebook, given that the whole money making element of it is to harvest people’s data and sell it. If the outcome of this is anything that makes doing that considerably harder, ie not hiding the agreement to having it done in tiny print Terms of Service that one has to agree to to get on FB, but some other specific question that can be said no to and you still get to be on Facebook, then this is the end of FB. People will click on the Privacy button, and there won’t be any way for FB to be free any more.

    The Left think they’re attacking CA and Trump in some way, they could be finishing FB instead.

  26. @Tim
    ”I was amazed that there is something called an Information Commissioner in the first place’

    You need to learn about the GDPR. Big in financial services right now:
    https://www.eugdpr.org/
    https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/key-definitions/

    If you write down a contact’s address and email you have legal obligations as a ‘data processor’……. Breaches to cost firms up to 4% of global turnover………!

  27. I celebrate the happy discovery that a headline beginning “Cambridge Anal” ends in “ytica”.

  28. Jim,

    Agreed, it could be the be the end if enough people close their accounts it could reverse the network effect and we could see a very rapid decline.

    I doubt it though.

  29. @BiND: its not that people leave, more that they stay, but that legislation will end up making money from their data impossible, leaving FBs only money making opportunities selling ads aimed at FB users (which wouldn’t be targeted due to lack of data, so not worth much, plus would put people off) or charging for being on FB. Which would kill it stone dead.

    Where I can see this heading is making gathering and/or making any financial gain from peoples internet data illegal. Or at least very much harder than today. This can’t be good for the current internet giants.

  30. “People will click on the Privacy button, and there won’t be any way for FB to be free any more. ”

    And I for one would welcome a “pay for privacy” option. I don’t use facebook, but I’d rather pay Google $100 a year, or whatever it is worth, to have use of their OS without them tracking my every move. I’m also not a fan of Microsoft uploading to their server any document I open in their office suite on the phone, and similar tricks to get us to hand over our data.

    Slightly off-topic, does anyone honestly believe that the slight advantage gained in targeting adverts using these gigabytes is really worth the trillions of dollars it supposedly is? I don’t.

  31. @BIG

    Slightly off-topic, does anyone honestly believe that the slight advantage gained in targeting adverts using these gigabytes is really worth the trillions of dollars it supposedly is? I don’t.

    Obviously current crazy-big valuations are but the expected present value of future cash flows, so lots of discounting must be being done, rather than a statement that it’s generating multi-trillions of profit today, but I do wonder myself …even if you do think it’s got the capacity to generate loadamoney there must surely be some big risks attached as to whether these income streams can keep rolling in forever?

    For one thing there is the technological to-and-fro – warfare even – over privacy. Ad-blockers, VPNs and so on. Then there’s social trends in attitudes to privacy – for now enough people seem content to hand stuff over, but what if that changes? There are privacy activists. Technological privacy education is coming into schools. A scandal might completely undermine public trust. (This may not be the scandal that does it, but it doesn’t help. Maybe it won’t take one big scandal, but a gradual erosion of trust from dozens of them.) Thirdly there are the legislators – what if politicians decide to take action? They have been legislating and regulating personal data issues for decades – sometimes in well thought-out ways, sometimes not – and there must be a non-zero chance of them imposing serious restrictions on commercial applications of data harvested from social media platforms.

    I imagine people far better qualified than me have made serious attempts at quantifying this risks. Would be interesting to know what they made of them.

Comments are closed.