Monday, December 18, 2017

Mueller Sets His Sights on Cambridge Analytica

At what point does the political interest in swaying public opinion during elections cross the line into anti-democratic electoral manipulation, brainwashing?

Grownups know that politics is a dirty business. It attracts a good many scumbags who find a ready home At for their unique talents.  America has a rich history of dirty tricksters as explored in this 2012 article from Time Magazine.

Whether it's been robo-calls, race baiting or outright slander, most of it has been tolerated. It's been a "shame on you" affair but little more.

In recent years, the internet and algorithms have been added to the mix with devastating effect. One prominent example now under scrutiny in the UK is a Victoria, B.C. company, Aggregate IQ, and the role it played in putting the "leave" campaign over the top on the Brexit referendum.

Aggregate IQ and one Chris Wylie are said to have developed the software later adopted by Cambridge Analytica, a company owned by Robert Mercer in which Steve Bannon is said to have millions invested.

"It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”

“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous."

Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. ...with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves.”

So far there’s been a lot of speculation about the potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and most of the stories have orbited around the financial dealings of the Trump family and people like Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. But this story is specifically about how team Trump, with the help of this data company, might have facilitated Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election.

We know from the reporting of Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim at the New York Times that Jared Kushner, who was charged with overseeing Trump’s digital operations, is the reason Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign.

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.


Toby said...

I hope Mueller also sets his sights on Facebook and Twitter.

ffibs said...

Cruz used Cambridge until August and then the dirty tricters including Cambridge moved to Trump. The cool thing about their product, data is that it just gets better with time and can be used for any cause or client.
The expediency of time might of been the impetus to use the third party hackers/content. Getting the Russians to provide these resources for free would of required contacts that Cambridge did not have. And that would be the crime, I assume.
As for Cambridge they list the GOP as clients, having been applied to state races in the past.