Revelations continue to be made about Facebook’s relationship with a data research company that bills itself as a company that help sway votes and win elections for politicians all over the world.
Cambridge Analytica, a subsidiary of Strategic Communications Laboratory, has come under fire in recent weeks over revelations that in violation of Facebook’s terms, it inappropriately harvested user data of as many 50 million people, mostly U.S. voters. In response to the allegations, Facebook has said that it suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica, SCL and two individuals associated with the breach.
Cambridge uses psychometrics, the study of human characteristics to predict human behavior. Information gleaned from things like personality tests, help researchers create algorithms that can help predict people’s reactions to online messaging, and ultimately, influence them.
The firm worked with the Trump campaign starting in June 2016. Wealthy Trump backer Robert Mercer was a heavy investor in the firm. His daughter Rebekah, had a seat on the board. Trump campaign manager and soon-to-be White House adviser Steve Bannon also took an ownership stake as well as a seat on the board.
A whistleblower named Christopher Wylie, who worked at Cambridge Analytica at the time of the data breach, worked with a Cambridge University scientist to gather the information. “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on,” Wylie said.
That scientist, an academic named Aleksandr Kogan built an app called thisisyourdigitallife to assist in the data recording. Both Wylie and Kogan have had their accounts suspended by Facebook as well.
Now Kogan is speaking out, alleging that what took place between Cambridge and Facebook was well within the social media giant’s terms of service and was done with Facebook’s awareness. Kogan also says that he is being set up to take the fall now that the data recording has become public.
“My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Kogan in a recent interview. “We thought we were doing something that was really normal and we were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the limits of the terms of service.”
“We knew they wanted to use it for political purposes but there was a lot of ambiguity of what that meant,” Kogan said in another interview.
In addition to Kogan’s statements, undercover video, the result of a four-month secret investigation by Channel 4 News in London, revealed that Cambridge’s leadership have admitted to using bribes and entrapment as ways to affect the outcomes of elections all over the world.
“We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet,” Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix says.
Nix also said that Cambridge could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house” to dig up dirt on a candidate.
Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge’s Political Global, can be heard on the video describing how the operation then takes that information and spreads it on the internet. “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet… and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’” he says.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for hearings into interference efforts in the 2016 election and Facebook’s specific role in those efforts. The tech company has announced it will meet with staff from the House and Senate Intelligence committees, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as the House and Senate Judiciary committees, this week to discuss Cambridge and the 2016 election.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has also announced that he will address the issues publicly for the first time within the next twenty-four hours. His statements will focus on “rebuilding trust” the company says.