Via Britain’s Channel 4, enjoy as Cambridge Analytica chief Alexander Nix explains the fine art of surreptitiously recording an enemy whom you’ve baited into doing something embarrassing as he’s being surreptitiously recorded after being baited into doing something embarrassing.
Cambridge Analytica is the data firm Trump’s campaign used in 2016. They’re funded by, among other people, Trump’s political patrons, the Mercers. Steve Bannon used to sit on their board. They’re in the news this week thanks to whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who revealed that a researcher at Cambridge University created an app — ostensibly for “academic” purposes — to scrape private data from 50 million Facebook profiles starting in 2014. But not just profiles of the people using the app; it scraped data from their friends’ profiles as well, which is a wee bit like hacking. The data was then handed off to CA for vote-profiling purposes. Harvesting the data wasn’t against Facebook rules at the time but using it for non-academic, i.e. political consulting, purposes was. That data may or may not still exist and may or may not be available on the Internet. Facebook’s now investigating to see if the data has been deleted and is being flogged by the media (and the stock market) for leaving its users vulnerable to the privacy breach.
The question after today’s Channel 4 segment is, were data shenanigans the only shenanigans CA was engaged in? Was there any blackmail involved, perchance?
In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.
In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”
Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.
Bannon can and will claim that he’s shocked, shocked by this behavior but that it no longer concerns him since he’s an ex-board member. What’s the Mercers’ defense?
Cambridge Analytica claims, adorably, that the comments in the clip below are easily explained. See, Nix and his deputy were just trying to sniff out unethical intentions in a prospective client. They were proposing dirty tricks involving bribes and hookers simply to gauge the client’s reaction.
They’re the good guys here.
“We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called “honey-traps” for any purpose whatsoever… We routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions…
All of this is really just a set-up for tomorrow’s Channel 4 production. The segment below is part of a longer documentary about CA, you see; the next chapter is about CA’s work in the United States, which of course includes its duties on Trump’s behalf. Gulp. Here’s an interesting bit from today’s segment offered by Nix’s deputy that has Russiagate-watchers perking up on Twitter this afternoon:
He said: “… we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’.”
Did CA spread any disinformation on Trump’s behalf? More relevantly, did it have any role in circulating the hacked DNC and Podesta emails? Before you laugh at the suggestion, remember that Nix apparently reached out to Wikileaks during the campaign to see if he could assist in releasing Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. Supposedly he was rebuffed by Julian Assange, but the intention was clear enough. We’ll see what Channel 4 has to say tomorrow. What sinister dark arts did Cambridge perform for our president?
Probably none, to be honest:
BIGGEST SECRET ABOUT CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: It was (& is) an overpriced service that delivered little value to the TRUMP campaign, & the other campaigns & PACs that retained it — most of which hired the firm because it was seen as a prerequisite for receiving $$$ from the MERCERS.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) March 19, 2018
It may be that CA’s work for Trump was unimportant, the fees just a tribute paid by POTUS and his team to the Mercers for their continued support. CA, in fact, insists that none of the ill-gotten Facebook data was used in its work for Trump’s campaign. And it’s possible that Nix was caught doing nothing worse in the clip below than being a self-important blowhard who likes to impress would-be clients with BS tales of darkly cunning dirty tricks that he’s either unable or unwilling to carry out in real life. He had a reputation for overhyping his business before this. Maybe that’s all this is too. Maybe.
Oh, by the way: Trump’s campaign may not have benefited from a massive dragnet of Facebook data — but Barack Obama’s did. And one of the top data dogs on his 2012 campaign was candid about how Facebook reacted when they found out.
They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.
— Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018
Another Obama data honcho was indignant at the suggestion that they did anything like CA allegedly did, insisting that they never used false pretenses in gathering data. Still, Davidsen’s admission requires further explanation, especially if Mark Zuckerberg ends up testifying before Congress. Did Obama’s campaign violate any of Facebook’s rules in its data-gathering? Were any procedures put in place afterward because of it to prevent others from doing the same? Does Facebook normally look the other way at dubious practices that risk users’ privacy for political figures it supports?