“Your Own Devices Will Give the Next Cambridge Analytica Far More Power to Influence Your Vote”
Justin Hendrix and David Carroll, MIT Technology Review, April 2, 2018
Though it's not clear if Cambridge Analytica's behavioral profiling and microtargeting had any measurable effect on the 2016 US election, these technologies are advancing quickly — faster than academics can study their effects and certainly faster than policymakers can respond. The next generation of such firms will almost certainly deliver on the promise. …
In the next few years, … we'll see the convergence of multiple disciplines, including data mining, artificial intelligence, psychology, marketing, economics, and experiential design theory. These methods will combine with an exponential increase in the number of surveillance sensors we introduce into our homes and communities, from voice assistants to internet-of-things devices that track people as they move through the day. Our devices will get better at detecting facial expressions, interpreting speech, and analyzing psychological signals.
In other words, the machines will know us better tomorrow than they do today. They will certainly have the data. While a General Data Protection Regulation is about to take effect in the European Union, the US is headed in the opposite direction. Facebook may have clamped down on access to its data, but there is more information about citizens on the market than ever before … not to mention all the data sloshing around thanks to hacks and misuse.
The “exponential increase in the number of surveillance sensors we introduce into our homes and communities” is already well along. We're past the knee of the curve and climbing the shaft of the hockey stick. Soon the only constraints will be bandwidth and network congestion, as a trillion cameras, microphones, and sensors all try to deliver their data in real time to the marketers, propagandists, spies, and law-enforcement teams poised in eager expectation.
“The Cambridge Analytica Con”
Yasha Levine, The Baffler, March 21, 2018
What Cambridge Analytica is accused of doing — siphoning people's data, compiling profiles, and then deploying that information to influence them to vote a certain way — Facebook and Silicon Valley giants like Google do every day, indeed, every minute we're logged on, on a far greater and more invasive scale.
Today's internet business ecosystem is built on for-profit surveillance, behavioral profiling, manipulation and influence. That's the name of the game. It isn't just Facebook or Cambridge Analytica or even Google. It's Amazon. It's eBay. It's Palantir. It's Angry Birds. It's Movie Pass. It's Lockheed Martin. It's every app you've ever downloaded. Every phone you bought. Every program you watched on your on-demand cable TV package.
All of these games, apps, and platforms profit from the concerted siphoning up of all data trails to produce profiles for all sorts of micro-targeted influence ops in the private sector. …
Silicon Valley of course keeps a tight lid on this information, but you can get a glimpse of the kinds of data our private digital dossiers contain by trawling through their patents. Take, for instance, a series of patents Google filed in the mid-2000s for its Gmail-targeted advertising technology. The language, stripped of opaque tech jargon, revealed that just about everything we enter into Google's many products and platforms — from email correspondence to Web searches and internet browsing — is analyzed and used to profile users in an extremely invasive and personal way. Email correspondence is parsed for meaning and subject matter. Names are matched to real identities and addresses. Email attachments — say, bank statements or testing results from a medical lab — are scraped for information. Demographic and psychographic data, including social class, personality type, age, sex, political affiliation, cultural interests, social ties, personal income, and marital status[,] is extracted. In one patent, I discovered that Google apparently had the ability to determine if a person was a legal U.S. resident or not. It also turned out you didn't have to be a registered Google user to be snared in this profiling apparatus. All you had to do was communicate with someone who had a Gmail address. …
The enormous commercial interest that political campaigns have shown in social media has earned them privileged attention from Silicon Valley platforms in return. Facebook runs a separate political division specifically geared to help its customers target and influence voters.
The company even allows political campaigns to upload their own lists of potential voters and supporters directly into Facebook's data system. So armed, digital political operatives can then use those people's social networks to identify other prospective voters who might be supportive of their candidate — and then target them with a whole new tidal wave of ads.
Both of the Establishment parties have been using surveillance companies' dossiers to target their propaganda since at least 2008 and now sink tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars on such projects in every election cycle. So it's not too likely that we're going to see Congress regulate technology companies in any way that would interfere with the smooth operation of the mechanism or even slightly alienate the power brokers. Zuckerberg is pleading with Congress to pass regulatory legislation because he is now confident that he is ready to play the game of regulatory capture and will be better at it than most of his competitors.