This week a whistle blower came out with a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. There is a complicated web of relationships that explains how Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest raw data from 50 million Facebook profiles to direct its messaging. Cambridge Analytica, is tangled up in several scandals and it can be hard to keep track of how all the pieces fit together. This series of diagrams from Vox provides a good overview.
Please be advised that this story is related to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. As such, there is a great deal of hysteria and hyperbole involved. In this issue of TL;DR, I’m trying to cut through the mess and help inform you about what is happening with your data, content, and identity in online spaces.
The three paragraph summary from the post in The Atlantic is available below:
In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.
Cambridge Analytica has significant ties to some of President Trump’s most prominent supporters and advisers. Rebekah Mercer, a Republican donor and a co-owner of Breitbart News, sits on the board of Cambridge Analytica. Her father, Robert Mercer, invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica on the recommendation of his political adviser, Steve Bannon, according to the Times. On Monday, hidden-camera footage appeared to show Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, offering to bribe and blackmail public officials around the world. If Nix did so, it would violate U.K. law. Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix on Tuesday.
Cambridge Analytica also used its “psychographic” tools to make targeted online ad buys for the Brexit “Leave” campaign, the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, and the 2016 Trump campaign. If any British Cambridge Analytica employees without a green card worked on those two U.S. campaigns, they did so in violation of federal law.