On March 17th, The New York Times and the Guardian reported that the British data mining firm named Cambridge Analytica, which had worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign improperly obtained access to more than 50 million user profiles. Experts believe that they could have used that data to gain an unfair advantage by targeting voters.
Some aspects of the story remain unclear, such as whether or not the number of 50 million user profiles is accurate, or if it was used by the data mining firm to build hype. It’s unclear whether we will ever really know more than we do now, especially judging by the rate to which development of the story has slowed. Although, The Guardian’s coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; they even started an article series dubbed “The Cambridge Analytica Files”.
Below is an interview that The Guardian conducted as a part of “The Cambridge Analytica Files” with a whistle-blower from within Cambridge Analytica.
The former employee, Christopher Wylie, opens up about the regret that he feels for what he did, and says that his regret contributes to the reason he accepted to do the interview; he wants people to know what this company does and is. Christopher says, “It’s incorrect to call Cambridge Analytica purely data science, algorithm company. It is a full-service propaganda machine.” He also states that upwards of 50-60 million user profiles were collected in a three-month period, with alleged access to Facebook likes, status updates, and in some cases even private messages. Cambridge Analytica spent $1 million in harvesting millions of Facebook profiles which were the basis of the company. They used the data collected from user profiles to target messages in a way that would let them change how you think about something.
This was the weapon that Steve Bannon wanted to build to fight his ‘culture-war’.
They effectively built a system that could profile individual US voters in order to target them with personalized political advertisements, which could have been the deciding factor that put Donald Trump into office. However, Christpher Wylie mentions that it is unclear whether or not the use of such targeted advertisements played a significant role in the election.
Cambridge Analytica has rejected all allegations of their involvement. Dr. Aleksandr Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.
Facebook has since denied that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said that “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.”
Below is a documentary, which encompasses and summarizes what happened very well, including some information that was discovered by carrying out an undercover investigation.
Cambridge Analytica admits to using data to target users which don’t yet support Trump to show them targeted political advertisements such as the following, entitled “Crooked Hillary”. They evidently would have been unable to carry this out through their own social accounts, so they made use of Political Action Committees. The use of such PACs is actually forbidden by law, evidently to avoid swerving public opinions on such a massive scale.
If you’re interested in the role that Facebook has played, and are questioning why Facebook didn’t intervene any sooner, I’d recommend that you watch this CNN interview with Mark Zuckerberg.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2018
As The Guardian best puts it: Don’t waste the Cambridge Analytica scandal: it’s a chance to take control of our data.