Monday, August 05, 2019

The Great Hack: Watch It

I've been alarmed anew by the Cambridge Analytica horror story after watching the documentary "The Great Hack" last night on Netflix.

We're all rightly offended by the massive invasion of privacy that occurred in that scandalous period. But what's far more frightening for me after the film is the monumental scope of global democratic disruption.

What Cambridge Analytica did with Facebook's happy help was psychological warfare funded by wealthy people. Carried out on behalf of political parties that the wealthy people resonate with, it targeted carefully selected "persuadibles" chosen for their fear-based, authoritarian-leaning personalities. Everything they needed to know was mined out of Facebook and other social media, via a "fun" little personality quiz developed by an American researcher working at Cambridge University.

And the rest is history, as they say. Brexit. Trump. But so much more, because Cambridge was active all over the world. When authoritarian interests came calling, Cambridge was there.

One of the most unsettling revelations for me was the film's evidence that Cambridge ran a campaign aiming to increase voter apathy among young black adults in the 2010 Trinidad and Tobago election. Cambridge's secret Facebook campaign targeted those who were naturally prone to checking out and showing a low interest in their world with a campaign that encouraged them not to vote.

Parties are known to attract distinct race-based support in that country, so the goal of Cambridge's clients was to see the Indian-based party win by increasing voter apathy among those who supported other parties. The Do So campaign targeted young black adults with a song-and-dance, fun-loving barrage of videos encouraging them not to vote as a symbol of protest.

That is pure evil at work, don't you think?

Hope you'll watch it. Those of us with ethical character can't even imagine the scenarios that those motivated solely by money and power get up to, but it feels important to get a big reminder every now and then, something that gets you reading deep or watching some revelatory documentary that shakes you to the core.

Sure, let's focus on the positive, too. But we wouldn't want to get complacent thinking everything's pretty much OK. The Great Hack reminds us that it most definitely isn't.

Message I was left with: Wake up! Wake up! It's so much bigger than somebody having access to everything on your Facebook account. We're talking an act of war.

Governments are complicit because they want to win. Cambridge Analytica-type firms are complicit because they not only want to grow rich, but get a rush from being disruptors without ethics. Facebook and other social media are complicit because there is so damn much money to be had.

(In her powerful TED talk on this issue, Guardian journalist Carol Cadwalladr asks social-media executives if this is how they want history to remember them, as "handmaidens to authoritarianism.")

Question I was left with: Where the heck was the academic, Alexandr Kogan, who created the infamous personality test that Cambridge used to identify "persuadibles"? He barely got a mention in the film.

He took his field of research and used it commercially to deliberately subvert democracy. He made this whole thing possible. So many people behaving badly, but I definitely have him on my list.


Anonymous said...

I haven't watched this as of yet, but I suspect there's nothing new I'll learn. I encourage you to look into the use of "The Big Five" as a psychological tool - it's extremely useful and, without seeing this doc, I can tell it's almost certainly the can opener' that was used to pry open people to suggestability. This kind of thing is not new and it wasn't new when Cambridge used it. It's been used in marketing for some time and will continue to be used.
I'm responding to your post because just today, the 'sports/stats' site 5-38 actually used an article to phish for exactly the same information. This page was originally published in January 2019 and was re-upped again yesterday, and disappeared just as quickly. As you may or may not know, 5-38 is owned by ESPN which is in turn owned by Disney.

I'm a sports fan and I like 538, but this was really disheartening; nowhere do they mention that answering all these questions will be tied to the users IP address and, once this is done, that information will be shared throughout the Disney owned web properties. Nowhere do they tell the site visitors what that stored data will be used for, but you better believe it will. No other psychology test is as reliably accurate at the age of 65 as it is at 15 like the OCEAN test.

I see this as a natural outgrowth of marketing and 'big data'. And keep in mind, it can be used as a force for good as well as 'evil' too.
You might remember a few eyars ago when a senior RCMP officer actually made an appeal to the Canadian Marketing Association to start making guidelines for their members, due to the misuse his section (Fraud) was finding. As he said, "There's only one reason a marketer asks for data that 1) identifies elderly site visitors 2) who search for terms like "Alzheimers" or "Dementia symptoms" and who also play or search for 'games of chance'/'lottery'" As he said then, "It's pretty clear about what marketers are planning on doing when they seek users who fit that profile."

Welcome to the Internet.

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