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The Politics of Data Privacy in a Post-Cambridge Analytica World

It is now six weeks since the Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked Facebook. Potential sea change — in the sense that Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problem was only the most visible example of a much broader and deeper phenomenon. The core business model of many tech firms is monetizing the data they collect from users — not only for themselves but also for selling on to others. But there is a powerful political dynamic right below the surface: The more visible and widely understood the tech business model of monetizing user-generated data becomes, the more people will be upset about it — and the more likely government will try to respond through some sort of regulation (even if the regulation is misguided, ineffective or both). Facebook and Google are so big that there is a plausible prima facie argument that they can no longer be regulated by market forces; the government will have to step in. Given that their core business model is monetizing information on the behavior of users, the concern is about 21st century consumer protection on an unprecedented scale. Consumer protection is different from regulating tech firms like media companies (the other oft-cited “existential risk” to tech). Big advantages to tech companies that can demonstrate a history of taking data and privacy concerns more seriously, and/or whose business doesn’t rely heavily on monetizing user data. Big challenges for other industries that combine high tech with using personal data to drive the business — and hence where consumer protection looms large. Facebook/Cambridge Analytica swallowed all the media headlines because of its tie-in with Trump/Russia.

The six weeks that brought Cambridge Analytica down

In December 2015, the Guardian revealed that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was using psychological profiles based on data harvested from tens of millions of Facebook users. Facebook attempted to dampen the impact of Wylie’s whistleblowing interviews by publishing its own mea culpa and banning Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from its platform, hours before publication but two years after the data breach was first reported. The day after Wylie’s bombshell revelations, US congressional investigators from the house intelligence committee asked Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Nix, to testify before Congress. On Sunday 25 March, Wylie spoke about Cambridge Analytica connections to AggregateIQ, a Canadian firm that worked with different leave campaigns in the European referendum. Play Video 1:18 Soon afterwards, US watchdogs filed a legal complaint against Cambridge Analytica with the Federal Election Commission. How academic at centre of Facebook scandal tried – and failed – to spin personal data into gold Read more Vote Leave has repeatedly denied coordination between the campaigns and said the donation was legitimate under election law. Facebook suspended AggregateIQ, a data firm with which the Vote Leave campaign spent 40% of its budget, on 6 April, following reports that it was connected to SCL. That same week, Zuckerberg faced 10 hours of questioning by members of Congress. Nix was summoned to appear before a British parliamentary committee on fake news the following week for questioning over “inconsistencies” in evidence he had given the committee in February, when he claimed: “We do not work with Facebook data, and we do not have Facebook data.” However, on 17 April he cancelled his appearance, citing the ICO’s ongoing investigation into his company. On 2 May, the same day that Cambridge Analytica announced it was going into liquidation, Chris Vickery of the data security firm Upguard gave evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport committee that the Trump campaign had access to psychological profiles derived from Facebook data, that AIQ and Cambridge Analytica were technologically entwined and that illegal co-ordination of data by leave campaigns was “indisputable”.

What the life and death of Cambridge Analytica tells us about politics — and...

The implosion of Cambridge Analytica has made clear how politics often works in our increasingly digital world. According to British public filings, Emerdata was incorporated in August 2017 and Rebekah Mercer and her sister were appointed to its board on March 20 of this year, days after news broke of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica, meanwhile, appeared to leave the door open to selling its data and other key assets to some other company. We know that a Cambridge University researcher collected granular Facebook data on 87 million people in 2014 and shared it with Cambridge Analytica, according to Facebook. Those advertisers then try to get us to do things -- buy stuff, vote for people, vote against other people. This is an ecosystem in which we long have been willing participants. Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Washington Post. Follow @craigtimberg Tony Romm is a technology policy reporter at The Washington Post. He has spent more than eight years covering the ways that tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google navigate the corridors of government -- and the regulations that sometimes result. Follow @tonyromm Sarah Ellison is a staff writer based in New York for The Washington Post.

Facebook Fallout Deals Blow to Mercers’ Political Clout

A pro-Trump advocacy group controlled by Ms. Mercer has gone silent following strategic disputes between her and other top donors. Through a spokeswoman, Ms. Mercer declined to answer questions about her role in Mr. Trump’s circle or the Facebook meeting about Cambridge Analytica. Mr. Michelsen met informally with a Facebook acquaintance who was accompanied by a Facebook lawyer, according to a person briefed on the meeting, and both Cambridge Analytica and the Mercers were discussed. Ms. Mercer declined to say whether she and Mr. Michelsen had discussed the purpose of the meeting or whether he had briefed her on it afterward. The family has also donated $4.5 million to Republican candidates and super PACs during the 2018 election cycle, putting the Mercers among the top 20 donors in the country. That grant, the Mercer foundation’s first recorded contribution to DonorsTrust, could herald a shift in the family’s philanthropic strategy. The donor records a contribution to DonorsTrust and recommends potential recipients, while grantees receive a donation from DonorsTrust charitable vehicles. Public records show that Ms. Mercer, her sister Jennifer and Mr. Nix serve as directors of Emerdata, a British data company formed in August by top executives at Cambridge Analytica and its affiliate, SCL Group, according to British corporate records. Mr. Ko, who declined to comment, is a substantial shareholder and deputy chairman in Mr. Prince’s Africa-focused logistics company, Frontier Services Group. Emerdata has a second Hong Kong-based director, Peng Cheng.

Facebook fiasco: Feinstein focuses on politics, Kamala Harris on users

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris highlighted very different worries Tuesday when they had their chance to question Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a televised Senate hearing that ran for nearly five hours. For Feinstein, the “alarming” Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential campaign was her top concern. She added that she had previously asked Zuckerberg “several critical questions for which you don’t have answers,” including why Facebook hadn’t alerted users that their data had fallen into the hands of the Cambridge Analytica political consulting firm when the platform discovered it in 2015. “Knowing what we know now, we should have handled a lot of things here differently,” Zuckerberg said, stating what was the theme of his long afternoon under the TV lights. she asked Zuckerberg. The company didn’t even identify the problem until “around the time of the 2016 election itself,” he said. “They’re going to get better at this, and we have to get better, too.” Harris took a much sharper tone with Zuckerberg, accusing him of avoiding answers to many of the questions senators were asking. Was there a discussion in 2015 “about whether or not the users should be informed?” Harris asked. “And we did that based on false information that we thought that the case was closed and the data had been deleted.” Harris also asked how much money Facebook had made from the fake Russian campaign ads, repeating a question she had asked executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter in November.

Politicians follow in Facebook’s footsteps on mass data collection

Almost 90 million Facebook users from Los Angeles to London may have had their online information illegally collected by Cambridge Analytica as part of its work for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Mark Zuckerberg, the social networking giant’s chief executive, will testify to U.S. lawmakers this week over claims that the tech giant played fast and loose in its protection of people’s online privacy. Do people using such websites really understand that they are, in fact, data-gathering strategies by the country’s leading political parties? Just as Facebook, YouTube and other popular digital services offered people apparently “free” goodies in return for their personal information, lawmakers have realized that they too can use similar smartphone-friendly tactics to (legitimately) gather data on potential voters. Privacy campaigners — and, increasingly, the general public — have raised hackles about how much data many of the world’s largest tech companies now hold on all of our digital habits. But to play, people had to hand over a raft of personal information, including their cellphone numbers and addresses, as well as complete an online survey about Brexit, which was then used by Vote Leave’s data experts to hone their political targeting tactics. As part of the Trump and Vote Leave campaign apps, which functioned as quasi-social networks, people were asked to fill in personal information, including their phone numbers and, in the U.S., voter registration information. “It’s about people coming back to the app.” Neither the Trump or Vote Leave campaigns were the only ones to use such digital tactics to woo voters into handing over personal information. If anything, the recent Facebook data scandal has taught us is that nothing in the digital world is free. The same also goes for politics.

Facebook suspends Canadian political data firm

(CNN)Facebook announced late Friday that it is suspending AggregateIQ, a Canadian data firm, for its alleged ties to SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. "In light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received FB user data, we have added them to the list of entities we have suspended from our platform while we investigate," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN. "Our internal review continues, and we will cooperate fully with any investigations by regulatory authorities." In a statement on its website, AggregateIQ distanced itself from Cambridge Analytica and SCL but did not deny it has done work with SCL. "AggregateIQ works in full compliance within all legal and regulatory requirements in all jurisdictions where it operates. It has never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity. All work AggregateIQ does for each client is kept separate from every other client." Cambridge Analytica said in a statement last week that it had "subcontracted some digital marketing and software development to Aggregate IQ in 2014 and 2015," and added, "The suggestion that Cambridge Analytica was somehow involved in any work done by Aggregate IQ in the 2016 EU referendum is entirely false." The news comes after Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump's campaign, and its parent company last month over concerns about violations of the social media site's policies. Facebook has said the data was initially collected by a professor for academic purposes in line with its rules.

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: The Writing on the Wall

Today in 5 Lines Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced that President Trump will sign a proclamation for the deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Police said the woman who opened fire at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, on Tuesday practiced at a gun range hours before the attack. The shooter, identified as Nasim Aghdam, was upset with YouTube’s policies, according to authorities. After China imposed tariffs on American soybeans, cars, and airplanes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 500 points, and soybean prices dropped more than 5 percent. Today on The Atlantic Does It Matter If Trump Is a ‘Target’ or a ‘Subject’? : The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the president is a subject of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but not a target. Here’s what that means. (Adam Serwer) Roseanne Is Dividing the Left: Conor Friedersdorf breaks down two distinct reactions to ABC’s reboot of the television sitcom. How the House Intelligence Committee Broke: The panel’s leading members once enjoyed “something of a bromance.” But the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election has driven them apart. (Natasha Bertrand) Why Chappaquiddick Matters: A new film tells the story of Senator Ted Kennedy’s 1969 car crash that led to the death of his passenger.

From Indonesia to Thailand, Cambridge Analytica’s parent influenced southeast Asian politics

In the tumultuous months after protests and riots wracked Jakarta, bringing down Indonesian president Haji Muhammad Suharto in May 1998, a British political consultancy arrived on the scene. SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica (CA), says it came to southeast Asia’s most populous nation at the behest of “pro-democratic groups” to “assist with a national campaign of political reform and democratization.” The country was still reeling from the Asian economic crisis that started in 1997 and the exit of a leader who had held on to power for three decades. In Thailand, the company claims to have spent nine months surveying voters before staging an intervention on behalf of multiple political parties. In total, SCL claims to have worked on more than 100 election campaigns across 32 countries. The documents don’t specify who SCL initially worked for in Indonesia, but they indicate that the company managed the election campaign of Wahid’s National Awakening Party. Before Thaksin’s coming In Thailand, too, SCL claims to have set up a large operation that went on for months. “It was quite commonplace for voters to sell their votes twice—and then not vote at all!” As in Indonesia, SCL set up a research project to collate data from all 79 constituencies, using a staff of more than 1,200 that worked over nine months. In 50% of the constituencies assessed, the research found, vote-buying did not impact the electoral result, a finding that SCL claims was worth $250 million alone. SCL made clear those conflicts that could be won, those that could not, and those that had to be hard fought for,” said Leekpai, according to the documents. “Thai political parties want to win elections and some of them brought in whatever expertise they could to advise them.” However, there is some skepticism about the possibility of multiple parties supporting a project to stop vote-buying, as the SCL documents suggest.

How Cambridge Analytica broke into the U.S. political market through Mercer-allied conservative groups

Cambridge Analytica executives aggressively sought the backing of rich GOP donors, who they believed would help the company “effectively corner the market” in the United States, internal records show. ?” Nix asked his researchers, who followed through, according to emails provided to The Washington Post by former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie. “They met with me I believe, but it was nothing that we found interesting, and the pitch was not compelling.” Internal documents and interviews with former Cambridge Analytica employees illustrate how intently the company — a spinoff of a British firm — worked to win over U.S. political clients for the 2014 midterms. At the time, the company had access to Facebook data that had been obtained by a researcher for academic purposes and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook executives said last week. Mercer has been the largest donor to Bolton’s super PAC, giving $5 million since the 2014 cycle, according to FEC records. Part of the work that Cambridge Analytica performed for Bolton’s super PAC was psychographic voter targeting, which the company claimed could profile voters on the basis of certain characteristics. [Cambridge Analytica harnessed Facebook data in work for super PAC led by John Bolton, according to former employees] “They used the psychographic stuff, and the Facebook data was a part of that,” said a former Cambridge Analytica employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal strategy. The New York Times first reported that Cambridge Analytica harnessed its Facebook data in services it provided to the Bolton super PAC. In the 2014 cycle, GOP congressional campaigns and conservative-leaning groups paid at least $729,000 to the firm for a range of services, including research, data analytics and microtargeting. Follow @myhlee Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Washington Post.