A few fact-checks are in order – thanks in large part to the Vox story by Andrew Prokop – when it comes to Cambridge Analytica, the firm that is in the public and parliamentary eye on both sides of the Atlantic:

  • Wunder-kid Christopher Wylie apparently left the firm in 2014, a year before Trump even declared his campaign for the presidency.
  • Did Wylie’s psychological profile-based algorithms really guide Candidate Trump’s team to a shocking victory that no one predicted? Was it Wylie that put together the algorithms? Some doubt that apparently.
  • The parent company – if you will – of Cambridge Analytica is Strategic Communication Laboratories Group or SCL Group, founded in 1993 by Englishman and advertising executive Nigel Oaks. It had (and perhaps still has) a geographically diverse group of clients in places like Thailand and Indonesia, and operated as a fairly straightforward communications shop, building messaging for it’s clients. Questionable ethics, secrecy, and dirty tricks were reputedly a part of it’s operating methods.
  • After 9/11 SCL Group turned to Pysch-Ops to garnish some of the huge amounts of cash that were being offered to try and plan against the next possible terrorist attack.
  • Alexandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic/psychologist at Cambridge University created the thisismydigitallife app and obtained Facebook’s permission to use it to gather data on FB users as well as their friends on FB. He ended up with around 50 million raw profiles after around 270,000 people directly consented to give their data and indirectly (and therefore perhaps unknowingly) consented to allow the app to harvest data on their friends.
  • 30 million of those 50 million raw profiles were able to be cross-checked with other data to produce complete profiles. Facebook supposedly consented to Kogan’s data harvesting on the grounds that Kogan’s project was strictly academic. But there is skepticism about this given that social media make their money by gathering data on their users and then re-selling that data to third parties. Facebook had to have been aware of the huge profit potential provided by Kogan’s app and the data it had harvested.
  • Cambridge Analytica was put together around 2013 with the involvement of Steve Bannon and the Mercers. Kogan’s data base of tens of millions of profiles was to be the jewel in their crown as well as the input data for Christopher Wylie’s algorithms.
  • Here’s the big one: According to employees at Cambridge and staffers of Trump’s campaign, the Trump campaign did NOT even use Cambridge’s 30 million profiles. Rather the campaign team used the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) data set.

Among political consultants and communication shops Cambridge Analytica and by extension SCL Group were seen as big-talking and under-achieving lightweights. With a history of angry and disappointed clients. Including both the Ted Cruz campaign team and the Trump campaign team. And while Facebook is now desperately trying to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, and the Mercers who provided the money for Cambridge on the advice of Steve Bannon, it seems that as the NYTimes’ Zeynep Tufekci states that all of this drama is an:

all-too natural consequence of Facebook’s business model … by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors, and others.

Alexander Nix the just-fired CEO of Cambridge Analytica may be a blowhard Brit who likes to brag about dirty tricks over drinks with prospective clients. Christopher Wylie may be a genius who has not yet been able to fine-tune his radical and earth-shattering (if we believe him) concepts to the point where they actually work.

But someone else is and someone else will effectively use Pysch-ops to understand what you are thinking and doing and to try and nudge you in a certain direction; if your data is useful to a company, a state, or an intelligence agency. Or some other organization. And that is definitely worth everyone’s attention. Even if Cambridge Analytica turns out to be an empty shell run by hucksters.

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