Professionalism/Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and User Data
Participants[edit | edit source]
SCL Elections[edit | edit source]
SCL Group Limited was incorporated on December 18, 2006, and by 2014 was structured to have a political and military wings. Under the political wing was the sub entity SCL Elections Ltd. which itself was the parent of Cambridge Analytica LLC, a company operating in the US. SCL Elections described itself as "a behavioural research and intervention agency, delivering a scientifically verifiable approach to communications" that had the capability to "target individuals with pinpoint precision." The company publicly boasted projects in 19 countries often aiding political campaigns. One attestation given was by Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, saying "I am indebted to SCL for their strategic management of my election success."
Cambridge Analytica[edit | edit source]
Cambridge Analytica similarly offered "solutions [to] help candidates and campaign teams address the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities presented in this new environment," referring to the data driven elections taking place in the US in 2012 and 2014. The company touted their "proprietary methodology" of "Behavioral Microtargeting" which could "target audiences based on psychographic attributes, using advanced scientific research and social analysis methodologies to understand, measure and influence voter behavior."
Facebook[edit | edit source]
Facebook in the 2010s had established itself as a social media giant and was experiencing meteoric year-over-year growth from 2013-2017 after going public in 2012. Facebook had 186 million monthly active users in the US and Canada at the beginning of 2012 which grew to 239 million by the end of 2017.
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thisisyourdigitallife[edit | edit source]
Data Collection[edit | edit source]
In 2013, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University researcher, created an application called “thisisyourdigitallife” that collected user data for academic use through a personality test. According to the application’s terms of service, they collect “inter alia, the name, demographics, status updates and Facebook likes of your profile and of your network." 300,000 Facebook users entered this survey for a cash reward. Due to Facebook’s API design, respondents’ friends data were also collected without informed consent. Up to 87 million users’ data were exposed in reality. Kogan gave all the information to the consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, which harvested the data for analytics and tailored advertising campaigns.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, noted that this data was misused by Cambridge Analytica. To gain access to Facebook’s API, Cambridge Analytica had to provision access through Facebook’s systems; however, this process was mostly automatic from the years 2010-2014, potentially allowing bad actors to exploit data.
Ethical Issues[edit | edit source]
The application used Facebook’s Graph API, which is a tool for developers to get access to Facebook’s social graph, a deserialization of all information on Facebook. Version 1.0 of this API allowed Cambridge Analytica to gain access to information on users’ friends, which raised privacy concerns. In 2014, version 2.0 of the API was released that restricted access to information on users’ friends without their permission. Also in 2014, Facebook announced the Facebook Audience Network, which further expanded their targeted ad campaign towards its users. Privacy concerns are raised due to Facebook’s ambitions on respecting the right to privacy by selling user data to third-party companies in order to gain revenue.
In an email sent from Kogan to Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Kogan detailed many traits that could be predicted on each user: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, IQ, political views, fair-mindedness, neuroticism, religion, and others. The level of specificity shows the power of the Facebook data on creating a profile on each person. A targeted-based advertising campaign could bias the public perception on issues and inhibit people from seeing contrasting information to generate a balanced view.
Data Employment[edit | edit source]
Ted Cruz[edit | edit source]
The Ted Cruz presidential primary campaign contributed $5.8 million to Cambridge Analytica between July 2, 2015 and June 9, 2016. Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix presented the impact of data in election advertising in the 2016 Concordia Summit. Nix boasted that "months ago Senator Cruz was one of the less popular candidates seeking nomination and certainly one of the more vilified, in addition to which he had very low name recognition." By May in the election process, Ted Cruz was the largest candidate behind Donald Trump. Nix attributes the fast growth of the Ted Cruz campaign to the technologies supplied by Cambridge Analitica: data analytics combined with behavioral science in targeted advertisements. Ted Cruz claimed that Cambridge Analytica informed the campaign that their data use and acquisition were in compliance with laws and regulations. Nix concluded his presentation by saying that "of the two candidates left in this election, one of them is using these technologies and it's going to be very interesting to see how they impact the next seven weeks." The presidential candidate using Cambridge Analytica's services was Donald Trump.
Donald Trump[edit | edit source]
The Donald Trump presidential campaign contributed $5.9 million to Cambridge Analytica between July 29, 2016 and December 12, 2016. According to a document from Cambridge Analytica, they assisted the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election through "intensive survey research, data modelling and performance-optimising algorithms," which targeted 10,000 ads to different audiences. Under an initiative called Project Alamo, Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign generate a database of voter information. Although the claims on the involvement of Facebook data and the Trump campaign are not fully substantiated, it is widely suggested that Cambridge Analytica used it to "monitor the effectiveness of its messaging on different types of voters," which gave feedback on "levels of engagement on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat."
Russia[edit | edit source]
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix asserted that “As far as I’m aware, we’ve never worked for a Russian company.” The whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, testified that meetings occurred between Cambridge Analytica and Russia oil company Lukoil, in which Nix was involved. Wylie expressed confusion around the motives of Lukoil when recalling "[Cambridge Analytica] sending them stuff about political targeting — they then come and ask more about political targeting". Lukoil did not create a contract with Cambridge Analytica as a result of these meetings. However, company documents list Cambridge Analytica clients in Russia. An investigation found evidence that the Facebook profiles harvested in the data breach were accessed in Russia.
Brexit[edit | edit source]
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reviewed potential use of the data associated with the scandal in Brexit campaigns. ICO concluded that the data did not impact the Brexit Referendum because the data only represented US voters. Cambridge was employed by political group Leave.EU, but the service was limited to information on the UK Independence Party. In the Cambridge Analytica proposal to Leave.EU, the SCL group proposed a microtargeting platform using data from GoSkippy, a UK insurance broker. Former Cambridge Employee Brittany Kaiser reported that a Cambridge Analytica clone, Big Data Dolphins, was created by Leave.EU executives and employed in the telemarketing of customers of Eldon Insurance and GoSkippy.
Exposé[edit | edit source]
On March 17, 2018, The Guardian published the article that kickstart the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Guardian and Observer "spent a year analysing documents, gathering eyewitness reports and working with whistleblowers to untangle a highly complex story of elections in the digital age." The article alleged data collected on 50 million Facebook users, majorly without consent, was used by Trump's election team, the Brexit campaign, and possibly Russian groups. Whistleblower Christopher Wylie provided a mass of evidence from his time working for Cambridge Analytica.
The Guardian published a follow-up article the next day with the statement "I made Steve Bannon's psychological warfare tool" in the headline. Steve Bannon, chairman of the "alt-right" news organization Breitbart, was referred to SCL Group by a Republican Strategist who described them as "cyberwarfare for elections." Bannon, Wylie, and billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer met together in 2014 and founded Cambridge Analytica as a joint venture under SCL Elections shortly thereafter. Over the next two years, Wylie oversaw the creation of a platform that could utilize big data to aid campaigns. Cambridge Analytics was described as "M16 for hire" as it could weaponize its detailed profiles on millions of Americans.
Fallout[edit | edit source]
Facebook[edit | edit source]
On March 21, 2018, Zuckerberg promised an investigation, restrictions on data use by developers, and a tool for users to control how their data is shared. The response did little to lessen the intense scrutiny Facebook was facing from lawmakers and the public. Facebook's market cap dropped 25 percent or $137 billion in 2018. The company settled its case with the US government in late 2022 for $725 million never admitting wrongdoing.
Cambridge Analytica[edit | edit source]
On May 2, 2018, Cambridge Analytica announced that SCL Elections Ltd. and Cambridge Analytica LLC U.K's affiliates filed for insolvency proceedings. Cambridge Analytica also commenced parallel bankruptcy proceedings in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Cambridge Analytica denied any wrongdoing, stating that they have been "subject of numerous unfounded accusations." However, in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission voted 5-0 to issue and opinion and order against Cambridge Analytica for "deceptive practices to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users for voter profiling and targeting."
Emerdata Limited[edit | edit source]
Former Cambridge Analytica directors incorporated Emerdata Limited, a holding company that acquired multiple SCL Group companies to consolidate ownership and refinance. Julian Wheatland, a former Cambridge Analytica CEO, affirmed that Emerdata Limited does not have access to the data from Cambridge Analytica. There is a high degree of overlap between Cambridge Analytica and Emerdata executives and investors. The address of Emerdata was changed to the same location as the SCL group.
Auspex International[edit | edit source]
Former Cambridge Analytica employees launched Auspex International as an ethical data analysis startup. This company continues the practice of data analytics in political and social campaigns. The founder, former Cambridge Analytica director Ahmed Al-Khatib, says that the company uses a similar method of influence for "ethically based" consulting service in the Middle East and Africa. Auspex International is currently in an active proposal to strike off (dissolve).
References[edit | edit source]
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- Bakir, V. (2020, Sep. 3). Psychological Operations in Digital Political Campaigns: Assessing Cambridge Analytica's Psychographic Profiling and Targeting. Frontiers in Communication 5.
- SCL Elections (n.d.). Home Page. sclelections.com; archived at web.archive.org/web/20160503040204/https://sclelections.com
- SCL Elections (n.d.). Projects. sclelections.com/projects; archived at web.archive.org/web/20160503040242/https://sclelections.com/projects
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- Concordia (2016). The Power of Big Data and Psychographics | 2016 Concordia Annual Summit. Youtube. youtube.com/watch?v=n8Dd5aVXLCc
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