Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower reveals data grab of 50 million Facebook profiles

– In an era
of big data and fake news political leaders are changing and so too the way
they campaign. What you post on social media is being watched being used and
what you see is crafted like never before and bestriding this vast digital frontier is Cambridge Analytica a
company which trawls personal data to try to predict then alter voter behavior.
A company which claims it was pivotal in getting Donald Trump elected – but which
today extraordinarily has been suspended from Facebook. Through this former
insider we can reveal it involves a data grab of not just hundreds of thousands
of user profiles but around 50 million and accusing Cambridge Analytica of
this and more their former director of research Chris Wylie. – if we look at what Cambridge Analytica does online it’s coercive people don’t know that it’s
being done to them. – It’s time says Wylie for us to know more about the methods of
Cambridge Analytica – Computers are better at understanding who you are as a
person than even your co-workers or your friends This is an information war he
says – social media is the battleground and you are the target it weighs on me
that I played a pivotal role in setting up a company that I think has
done a lot of harm to the democratic process in a lot of countries We begin this story in Cambridge it’s 2013 and at the university psychometric center
they’re delving into the world of Facebook and psychology into what
glimpses into the soul might your Facebook Likes revealed cutting edge
research which Chris Wiley was quick to spot and now helps explain – On social media you curate yourself you put so much information about who you are in
one single place so whenever you go and you like something you are giving me a
clue as to who you are as a person and so all of this can be captured very
easily and run through an algorithm that learns who you are when you go to work
right your co-workers only see one side of you
your friends only see one side of you but a computer sees all kinds of sides
of you and so we can get better than human level accuracy at predicting your
behaviour -really – yes absolutely – some dispute that but for Chris Wiley
then just 23 the notion was as seductive as it was potentially lucrative – the
company he worked for Strategic Communications Laboratories or SCL
specialized in psychological operations for the military and for him Facebook
was now the richest of canvases on which to not only read minds but change them
which is what brought Chris Wiley to the attention of SEL client Steve Bannon
then boss of the online magazine Breitbart later Donald Trump’s chief
strategist – What did Steve Bannon want – Steve wanted weapons for his culture
work that’s what he wanted and that’s that we we offered him a way to
accomplish what he wanted to do which was which was changed the culture of
America – Bannon’s big idea says Wiley was this – could they replicate the academics work profiling people’s personalities on
Facebook on a massive scale across the American electorate they had the money
from billionaire Republican backer Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebecca.
And through Chris Wiley they’re specialist Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan – already on Facebook permitted to gather users data for research purposes
but who now agreed to get much more and share it commercially. The blueprint for
the company which would become Cambridge Analytica – Kogan didn’t make any money
off of it he didn’t he did it he did it for free and what he got out of it was
the giant data set and what CA got out of it was also data everyone got data
but Cambridge Analytica paid for it directly – if you look here in the
underlying source code – – which which I wouldn’t normally see – no you wouldn’t
normally see – it worked like this thousands of Facebook users were paid to
download an app to fill out a personality survey with their consent
which in turn let Dr. Kogan capture the users underlying data and then share it
with Cambridge Analytica – so very simplistically you’re going into the
code behind the Facebook page you’re dragging out these ID numbers you’re
putting them into a into an algorithm and we and outcomes a prediction of how
you’re likely to vote yes simple and smart because the app didn’t just mine
the respondents data crucially it swept up that of their friends to those who
hadn’t adjusted their privacy settings imagine I go and ask you I say hey if I
give you $1 $2 could you fill out the survey for me just do it on this app and
you say fine right I don’t just capture what your responses
are I capture all of the information about you from Facebook but also this
app then crawls through your social network and captures all of that data
also so by you filling out my survey I capture 300 records
on average right and so that means that all the sudden I only need to engage
fifty thousand seventy thousand a hundred thousand people to get a really
big dataset really quickly and it’s scaled really quickly it we were able to
get upwards of fifty million plus Facebook records in the span of a couple
months fifty million yeah over 50 million records from Facebook using this
using this method and how many of those people behind those profiles were aware
that their profiles had been used in this way almost none almost no and so
claims Wiley began a Republican Big Data gold rush with Steve Bannon alt-right
ideologue later a Cambridge Analytica vice president leading the charge should
those Friends profiles have been used in the way that they were I don’t think so
I think they you know it was a big mistake to use this methods but why
Facebook didn’t you know make more enquiries when they started seeing that
you know tens of millions of records were being pulled this way you know I
don’t know you’d have to ask Facebook that but Facebook at least in a
technical sense facilitated the project because they they had applications that
had these permissions in the first place Facebook learned of this in 2015 and yet
it’s taken them until today to come out publicly and say this never should have
happened they’ve yet to acknowledge that this involved around 50 million users
instead talking of two hundred and seventy thousand plus friends they’ve
also been at pains to stress this wasn’t a data breach in the sense that users by
consent and friends through their default privacy settings agreed to Dr.
Kogan capturing their data and they say they’ve since improved their systems but
Kogan according to Facebook lied to them and violated their policies by passing
on the data to Cambridge Analytica at the time that you were taking this data off
Aleksandr Kogan which was yeah principally
only for academic research purposes you knew you were treading a very thin
ethical line presumably I think I think everyone I don’t think I think everyone
knew that you know we were waiting into a grey area it’d be it was an instance
of if you don’t ask questions you won’t get an answer that you don’t like
Cambridge analytica rejects this arguing they had assurances from dr.
Kogan that his actions were in line with Facebook’s protocols Kogan in turn
claims he had the right to use it for commercial purposes they and Chris Wiley
all assured Facebook sometime ago that they deleted the data as requested
but Facebook have now revealed some of that data reportedly might still exist
hence their dramatic decision to suspend Cambridge analytica Alexander Kogan and
Chris Wiley from Facebook while they investigate did you delete it
immediately as I had already deleted it I had when they sent me when they sent
me the the the letter that you’re referring to I didn’t have the data so
did they check that you deleted the data no they were just satisfied with the
form the only the only contact that I had was here’s a forum fill it out and
send it back and it’s done so they took your word for it that you had deleted
the data of over 50 million Facebook profiles yeah they didn’t didn’t do
anything aside from sign this form – so just how
significant was this data anyway of no use is Cambridge analytica’s position
fruitless is how their boss described the project to MPs recently here in
Westminster yet Chris Wiley claims it was anything but and foreshadowed worse
to come we spent almost a million dollars doing this it wasn’t some tiny
pilot project it was the the core of what Cambridge analytic I became it
allowed us to to move into the the the hearts and minds of American voters in a
way that had never been done before by the time Cambridge analytica had
been hired by the Trump campaign – my first hour in office those people are
gone – they had profiles from numerous datasets on more than 230 million
Americans also Cambridge analytica boast – this is real data from the
Republican primary enabling them as their boss Alexander Nix showed
Channel four News two years ago to micro-target different personality types
with bespoke emotionally resonant messages someone who’s neurotic is
someone who’s quite emotional and might respond in this case to a stimulus of
fear from stimulating us Republican campaigns to elections in Africa Asia
and Beyond Cambridge analytica are now the big data strategists with the big
name some allege however with little time for ethics among their number now
the former insider who claims there’s a dangerous alchemy to Cambridge analytica’s art – there is a lack of awareness it is coercive people if I am studying you
and I have enough information about you because you’ve curated your entire self
online and I capture that I can I can anticipate what are your mental
vulnerabilities what cognitive biases might you display in certain situations
but haven’t invited I can imagine wait that are you saying that Cambridge
analytical lies in its political messaging because that’s something they
would completely deny they they they they knowingly misrepresent the truth in
such a way that is conducive to their objective what’s your proof for that I
was there we worked on we worked on all kinds of experiments about what what
what would what would lead a person from A to B but if you’re working on behalf
of a political client you’re allowed to try and persuade voters persuade not
manipulated about your message persuade not manipulated there’s a difference but
I ask you what the evidence for manipulation as opposed
to trying to persuade this gets at the heart of you know why is it that you’re
taking this psychological approach why do you need to you know study
neuroticism in people what’s going to make them fearful it is the the the you
know what is the what is by pre I was there I was there I set it up I was a
research director like this is what it is some people might say it’s rank
hypocrisy for you to sort of try and claim the moral high ground now but at
the time when you were involved you were instrumental in all of this totally you
yes I want to continue in fact you were you were at the heart of it I was I was
instrumental I was at the heart of it I agree with you but I was naive I made a
mistake I made a big mistake and that’s why I’m talking to you
because the very least that I can do is to own up to that mistake why is wilee
speaking out now revenge perhaps following an acrimonious legal dispute
with Cambridge analytica after he left not so he says its remorse at having
been involved in the first place Cambridge analytica denies Wiley’s
claims of a coercive manipulative and untruthful approach dismissing dismissing these as
pure fantasy his legal fight with them they say has
left him with an axe to grind driven by malice and intent upon
damaging the company a company which they stress uses techniques similar to
those other commercial agencies use but I know that there is bad blood between
you and Cambridge analytica – you had a falling-out you know there was a legal
dispute is this really about revenge – no because if it was about revenge I could
have done this years ago they tried to sue me over you know their claims that I
was somehow trying to steal their clients or to somehow interfere with
their contractual relationships with other employees or what have you you
know and we’ll you know no I mean I first of all like I don’t
to work for the alt-right the the notion that I would want to somehow recreate
Cambridge analytica is for me personally absurd because why would I
why would I why would I leave if I wanted to recreate Cambridge Analytica I should
have just stayed great but I didn’t I chose to leave he is the data scientist
who helped weaponize the data who embroiled in a growing facebook scandal
now feels tainted by the new political order he thinks he helped create but he
knows all about the power a carefully directed message can have he did it for
Cambridge analytical back then just as he’s doing it against them now.

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