Lay Off Cambridge Analytica, Facebook Are The Evil Doers

Information Technology firm Cambridge Analytica are being attacked by the hysterical mainstream media mob for their alleged role in Russiagate, the alleged collusion between The Kremlin and Donald Trump to steal the US Presidency in 2016, and similar abuse of private date to influence the result of the Brexit vote earlier that year. It should be Facebook under attack, Cambridge Analytica only took advantage of a deal Facebook offers on the open market, to acquire millions of user profiles built up from data Facebook acquired using methods of dubious legality, and certainly without users knowing what was going on. These user profiles may or may not have used to help the campaigns, but were without doubt available to managers of the opposing campaigns.

There’s no service Cambridge Analytica could have performed that Facebook itself doesn’t offer political clients.

Here’s the quick version of the CA scandal saga, we’d bring you the full version but out server only has 500gbytes storage available, and most of the stuff is incredibily boring anyway.

Aleksandr Kogan, an academic of Russian origin at Cambridge University in the U.K., in 2014 built a Facebook app that paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a psychological test. Given that only the terminally bored click ‘yes’ to open these tests one has to wonder what kind of information can be gained from such people and what possible use it is. Here’s the catch though.

Apart from their test results, the users also shared the data themselves and their Facebook friends with the app. and allowed Facebook to plant tracker cookies on the devices of people who took the test. Kogan sold the database built from his psych test to CA, which Facebook considers a violation of its policies. The terms and conditions stated the app was not allowed to use the data for commercial purposes. Had Kogan sold the data to Facebook, they would have sold it on to clients, that is their business model.

The controversy then is a legal wrangle over who owns data stolen from users by Facebook apps, the app developer or Facebook.

Throughout 2017, unbiased commentators were pointing out that if the Trump campaign bought Facebook user data harvested through an app, it was only emulating Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign which used targeted ads and messages to voters identified through stolen data. Nobody has yet leaked information on how Obama’s team gathered vast amounts of data on potential supporters, but anyone who knows the tech side of the data industry has a good idea how, to quote technology journalist Sasha Issenberg, “‘targeted sharing’ protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade.”

To do this, the protocols would need to use features on the Facebook developers platform Kogan used, which were discontinued in 2015 after a public outcry, that allowed apps access to a user’s friends’ profiles – with the user’s consent, as Facebook likes to point out, but not that of their friends.

Facebook users are routinely tricked to obtain such consent. Tech companies make giving it, or agreeing to complex terms of service, look like a low-engagement decision.

“Is it okay if we look at your friends’ info?” they ask in phrases that suggest an attitude of gung – ho bonhomie.

“Sure, why not? It’s only Facebook,” we answer .

Usually only Facebook is interested in the legal technicalities of what permissions it gave to which developers, and how the data they gathered can be used. As far as everyone else is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether an app gathers data for research purposes or for political or commercial ones. Average users worry more about convenience than privacy.

What is more relevant, however, is what a political or advertising campaign do with such data. CA’s is accused of having developed Artificial Intelligence techniques far in advance of any other current technology which enable it to use the Facebook information to build psychological profiles that reveal a person’s propensity to vote for a certain party or candidate, buy certain products or eat certain foods.

But one must be sceptical of the psychobabble. No academic studies have yet linked personality traits, especially those built from the the self – aggrandizing bolocks people write about themselves on Facebook, to political choices. There is, however, research showing that moral values or even genetic factors are more reliable guides to personality traits.

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