Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a firm that was known to marketing companies around the world. It was known to the political elite, now, they’re known to the world as the company that swung an election.
The Observer, in a joint investigation with The New York Times, has uncovered how the company harvested, and then used, the data of around 50 million Facebook users in order to change their votes for the 2016 Presidential election.
All of these shadow tactics and tools were brought to light by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who has been working with the Observer for over a year.
The decision was made that by targeting users data as a personality, it would be easier to change the minds of the electorate.
After connecting with Cambridge professor Dr Aleksandr Kogan, and discovering apps that had special permissions on Facebook, there was now a way to harvest the data of thousands.
This would mean that not only could CA see the data of the user but the user’s entire friends network. Wylie explained: “We would only need to touch a couple hundred thousand people to expand into their entire social network which would then scale us to most of America”.
This data included “almost everything that would be on a Facebook profile so things like status updates, in some cases private messages….this is what the app could do”.
A “unit of personality” would be harvested and then targeted using information and media that the user was susceptible to and how many times it was needed to change the users mind. This information would then be used to create websites, blogs that CA deemed the user would be receptive to and be “placed on the internet for them to find”.
Channel 4 used undercover reporters, looking to use CA to help win an election. They set up meetings with executives of CA, including Alexander Nix. Nix confirmed in one meeting that tactics could be used to convey opposition candidates taking campaign donations in return for political favours.
Wylie also confirmed that in an interview with the Parliamentary enquiry into fake news, Nix lied when he said that CA never used Facebook data. Wylie said CA spent “The company itself was founded on using Facebook data”. Since the articles were printed and the investigation aired, consequences have come thick and fast.
Alexander Nix has been suspended as CEO of Cambridge Analytica, however it is worth explaining their own statement: “CA has no employees and very few assets save for a large amount of goodwill, some limited datasets and the rights”. This means that Nix has been suspended from a shell company but remains CEO of CA parent company SCL.
Mark Zuckerberg has been called to give evidence before MP’s. Zuckerberg has since released a statement saying his company had “made mistakes” over the alleged misuse of users’ data. The social media giant also saw £26bn wiped off its stock market value.
It is said that CA worked on targeting Brexit voters that could of changed the referendum. Vote Leave, chose to spend £3.9m with AggregateIQ, a company based in Canada which was created by CA.
Time will tell if Robert Mercer, Alexander Nix, Mark Turnbull and Mark Zuckerberg will be held accountable for their actions. The wider public will now know that what they see on social media, could have been put there to influence their democratic right to vote.