Tag Archives: cambridge analytica

Martin Horwood writes…The real issue about Trump, Facebook’s ‘data breach’, why The Observer missed the point and Liberals should care

The Observer‘s front page today lays into Facebook for a massive ‘data breach’ in which 50 million Americans’ data were harvested by the infamous Cambridge Analytica and used with great effect to target Trump messaging at US voters. They “built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons” their whistleblower Christopher Wylie is quoted as saying.  It was a powerful tool for a campaign based on fear and paranoia.  Little surprise then that Cambridge Analaytica is also being investigated by the Office of the Information Commissioner and by the Electoral Commission in the UK in connection with their work on the Brexit referendum.

But the main Observer story oddly misses the point. It focuses on how long it took Facebook to own up to the ‘breach’ and suspend Cambridge Analytica’s access to the service.  It describes the accessing of the data itself as “one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches”.

But it wasn’t.  And that’s not the importance of this story.

Anyone can harvest data from the web.  I harvest it when I can’t remember someone’s birthday or their kids’ names.  The Lib Dems harvest it indirectly when they use targeted Facebook advertising.  My engagement team in a previous job harvested it using smart algorithms to find possible engagement targets, ironically, to promote better data, openness and transparency.  The point is that all this information is out there and – a point confusingly referred to in the Observer piece – platforms like Facebook don’t regard it as their data but their users’ (“it may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided”).  Facebook’s suspension of CA appears to be because of technical breaches to their terms of use, particularly the sale of data to third parties.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 12 Comments

Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower used to work for Lib Dems and warned us of our 2015 demise

The Cambridge Analytica data story that’s been unfolding is equally fascinating and terrifying.

Today, the Observer has an interview with the whistleblower Christopher Wylie. 

He’s only 28, but he’s worked for the Canadian Liberals, the Obama campaign and the Liberal Democrats.

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.

“Politics is like the mob, though,” he says. “You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.”

I have always been pretty wary of Facebook quizzes because I’ve been sceptical about them having small print somewhere that allows them to access more information about me that I’m happy with complete strangers having. I tend to go through my privacy settings to see if I’ve inadvertently given anyone permission to take my personal data. It turns out I have good reason for being so careful. I know that some of my friends don’t use Facebook at all, partly because of concerns about data security.

Back in 2013, Chris Wylie made this conclusion about the Liberal Democrats after studying results of research into measuring personality traits across millions of people:

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested.

“I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: ‘Why are you so pessimistic?’ They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.”

To be fair, it was obvious to everyone that we were likely to take a massive hit in 2015. Few predicted the extent of our demise and you wouldn’t have needed this kind of tool to suggest that our campaign strategy was, shall we say, sub-optimal. 

Posted in News | 37 Comments
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  • User AvatarHywel 16th Dec - 12:17am
    Is a copy of the Federal Appeals Panel ruling on this available anywhere. I have a similar-ish appeal to them (on powers of the RO...
  • User AvatarMike Eccles 15th Dec - 10:16pm
    @Caron I joined on 9th September.
  • User AvatarAlan Dean 15th Dec - 9:48pm
    The party needs to address its values and to decide what they mean for the 2020s. The world is equalising and Britain needs to profess...
  • User AvatarMike Stamp 15th Dec - 9:31pm
    I agree with Jackmc that the LibDems need a movement/direction, and with Matt and other commenters that Electoral Reform and rejoining the EU are not...
  • User AvatarDennis Wake 15th Dec - 9:24pm
    We were never going to win this election or get much increase in seat numbers as the difference between us and the Conservatives of 32...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 15th Dec - 9:22pm
    If we are considering what coverage we receive on TV I think we need to think about what TV likes. In the debates we are...
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