Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Is Facebook an accomplice, though, or just the getaway car?  Do we prosecute the guns used in a shooting ... or do we regulate them more strongly so that the "bad guys" can't get them?

The news keeps pouring in about the illegal data operations of the firm Cambridge Analytica, which used a Facebook personality quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” to mine the data of millions of users, most of whom never actually used the app. The mined data went on to be used by Republican campaigns in 2016.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that a large part of the effort to mine data on American voters was overseen by Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart executive chairman and Trump strategist who recently utterly failed to lead a radical right-wing insurgency in the Republican party.

Bannon used Cambridge to test phrases like “drain the swamp” used in the campaign of Donald Trump and the phrase “deep state,” which became the name of the all-consuming right-wing conspiracy theory over the past year. These phrases were tested by Bannon and Cambridge more than three years before they entered the popular political discussion.

Cambridge was part of Bannon’s effort to build a right-wing populist machine on the right. But a former research director and founding force of Cambridge Analytica, Chris Wylie, made the depth of this connection apparent Tuesday in an interview with the Post. Wylie said that Bannon approved the $1 million operation to acquire Facebook profiles and other data in 2014.

Wylie’s account was one of several connected to Cambridge Analytica that Facebook suspended for its failure to comply with destroying the ill-gotten user data.

There are certainly some First Amendment issues at stake: people willingly, if not entirely wittingly, hand over their personal information, which becomes Facebook's property virtually forever, even if you delete your account.  Nefarious intentions of Facebook or those who purchase its data aside (a massive 'if'), has Mark Zuckerburg simply lost control of his creation, as with Dr. Frankenstein?  Should we let the invisible hand of the free market -- that would be us, since we're the merchandise and not the customer -- slap the crap out of this kid (more harshly than a $35 billion 'market correction', that is)?

How to use Facebook while giving it the minimum amount of personal data

How to delete Facebook

Maybe we should just praise Jeebus that the conversation has finally (maybe) turned away from "the Rushins hacked thuh elekshun"...

Here's your reading.

-- From the end of the GritPost link (excerpt at top):

The gravity of the legal and ethical questions about Cambridge’s actions might overshadow the practical consideration: did it even work? It’s unclear if there was much actually gained from the firestorm-generating and dubious data mining operation, with Trump digital director Brad Parscale saying the data wasn’t actually useful.

Parscale was recently tapped to run Trump's 2020 re-election campaign.  If there is one; for a variety of reasons I have my doubts as to whether that happens.

-- Washington Monthly (link from excerpt below within):

Here’s the part that stood out to me:
The company says their work with data and research allowed Mr Trump to win with a narrow margin of “40,000 votes” in three states providing victory in the electoral college system, despite losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.
That is likely a reference to their efforts at voter suppression among Clinton supporters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. I suspect we’ll be hearing more about that story at some point.

-- Facebook and all of us are not alone on this Titanic disaster, as we know.  Our data, everywhere it is stored online, is being hacked, leaked, misused, etc. on a daily basis by every kind of bad actor.

"It’s not just the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Ethics don’t scale," Paul Ford writes in Bloomberg Businessweek's cover story.

The big picture: "What’s been unfolding for a while now is a rolling catastrophe so obvious we forget it’s happening. Private data are spilling out of banks, credit-rating providers, email providers, and social networks and ending up everywhere."

"So this is an era of breaches and violations and stolen identities. Big companies can react nimbly when they fear regulation is actually on the horizon — for example, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have agreed to share data with researchers who are tracking disinformation, the result of a European Union commission on fake news."
"But for the most part we’re dealing with global entities that own the means whereby politicians garner votes, have vast access to capital to fund lobbying efforts, and are constitutionally certain of their own moral cause."

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