It’s a common morning routine for many: wake up, grab your cellphone, and scroll through Facebook. In between posts from friends and family, you may notice lots of links offering various quizzes. Innocuous things like this:
Harmless, right? It’s reasonable to assume that worst thing about the glut of these quizzes is that you’ll waste your time on something relatively pointless.
But in reality, these silly little quizzes are much more nefarious. Once you log in to Facebook in order to access a quiz, a little warning pops up:
Most Facebook users have seen this warning and thought nothing of it, clicking through to view the quiz. In 2014, a political data company used a simple personality quiz (with a very similar warning) to gather information on millions of Americans.
This company, Cambridge Analytica, claimed they were only collecting data on the user clicking on the quiz, when in reality they were also accessing the profiles of every “friend” the user had.
From the @Guardian on Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica’s data mining tricks: “…hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.” Don’t do this shit, folks.
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) March 17, 2018
Not only did the firm misrepresent whose data they were collecting, they also misrepresented the data as “collected for academic use,” when in fact the data was used for political purposes.
Cambridge Analytica’s data capture was extremely vital in creating the targeted advertising used to elect Donald Trump in 2016. In an interview with the Today Show, Christopher Wylie (co-founder of Cambridge Analytica) laid out the connection between this Facebook data breach and the models built by Cambridge Analytica for use by the Trump campaign. The interviewer asked:
‘You’ve said that Facebook improperly obtained data for up to 50 million Facebook users. And the point of this was to develop personality profiles and then target political advertising to them… Did the Trump campaign in 2016 use that improperly accessed data?’
Wylie left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, before their partnership with the Trump campaign, but had knowledge of the possible collaboration before departing:
‘The company had been in talks with Trump even before he announced his candidacy. What I do know is that this was the foundation of Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica was founded on misappropriated data of at least 50 million Facebook users.’
He then offers specifics on the timeline of collaboration between the company and Trump:
‘What I do know is that CA was meeting with Corey Lewandowski in 2015 before Trump had even announced, offering the services that I’m talking about right now.
The interviewer, Savannah Guthrie, pressed Wylie on the way the Facebook data was used. He responded:
‘This data was used to create profiling algorithms that would allow us to explore mental vulnerabilities of people and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people would see things all over the place that may or may not be true.’
So what’s the difference between this company’s services and the usual modes of political advertising?
‘The fundamental difference between what Cambridge Analytica has done and standard political messaging is that when I show you an ad for a candidate it says “Hi, I’m So-and so, and I approve this message.” It is apparent that they are seeing political advertising. It’s apparent that they are trying to be convinced.
‘But what Cambridge Analytica does is works on creating a web of disinformation online so that people start going down the rabbit hole of clicking on of blogs, websites, etcetera, to make them think that certain things are happening that may not be.’
Several times in the interview, Wylie asserts that the psycologists working with Cambridge Analytica were traveling back and forth between their home base of London and Moscow.
Cambridge Analytica was not solely a contractor hired by the Trump campaign to do marketing. For one, both Trump campaign staffers Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski were connected to the company:
This is a good time to remind everyone that Steve Bannon was Vice President and Secretary of Cambridge Analytica since June 2014 and "left" just before the election. Corey Lewandowski started meeting with them in 2015. Now, let's ask, how did Cory become campaign manager? pic.twitter.com/BBVyBwsmgC
— Roxy (@roxydavis99) March 19, 2018
Damningly, former National Security Advisor, transition team member, and campaign advisor Mike Flynn came forward in August of 2017 to admit to contracting with Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.
Incredible just how much #Flynn misrepresented the facts. And NOW we learn he took money from Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL? The same company that pilfered Facebook data to micro-target US voters. And which has connections to Russia. https://t.co/tIYCe9yFsc
— Michael Carpenter (@mikercarpenter) March 18, 2018
It’s clear that Trump is rattled by the Russia investigation, as you can see by his Twitter feed. But he’s not fooling anyone:
If you don't count Papadapolous, Sessions, Page, Manafort, Gates, Kushner, Flynn, Cambridge Analytica, the secure connection from Trump Tower to the Russian bank on the sanctions list, publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary's emails…did I forget anything??? https://t.co/a5XhACMywn
— Infantry Vet (@ericgobucks) February 4, 2018
Featured image: Spencer Platt/Getty