Cambridge Analytica Exposed: What You Need to Know

by: The Knowledge Group

March 27, 2018


The gist of it: the data collectors of Cambridge Analytica want to help businesses and political parties change people’s conduct so intensely, that they didn’t mind mining 50 million Facebook profiles as part of a political propaganda campaign. CA’s method involves sifting through data to identify impressionable voters, then convincing them, by way of web-based advertising and social media, to donate or vote in specific ways.

Cambridge Analytica’s (now suspended) founder, Alexander Nix, saw the boosting of Republican tech savvy as a business opportunity. Fine—but then Nix talked to an undercover reporter and boasted of manipulating votes to help Donald Trump before hiding the company’s tracks with a Snapchat-like email erasure technique. Asked if dirty campaign tactics could land the Delaware-registered company in legal trouble, Nix wrongly said the United States lacks jurisdiction.

CA also faces accusations of seeking foreign financial support for Britain’s Brexit vote, and of communicating with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange over facilitating the publication of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton.

Political Players

Nix, a corporate finance specialist, developed CA’s political work. But it may be more about sleazy exploitation than subtle propaganda techniques. Sting footage shows Nix suggesting sending “some girls” from the Ukraine to entrap politicians.

Cambridge Analytica played a role in several campaigns for the U.S. presidency. Steve Bannon sat on CA’s board from 2014 to 2016, while heading the late phase of Trump’s election campaign.

Trump’s reelection campaign is downplaying its relationship with the company—a relationship that brought Cambridge Analytica nearly $6 million in Trump’s original election.

Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica face investigation by Britain’s Information Commissioner. At the same time, the Electoral Commission will examine Cambridge Analytica’s influence on the Brexit referendum.

Facebook Responds

Facebook at first denied a data breach, saying it had granted a company permission to send quizzes to users. But that company wasn’t Cambridge Analytica—which would ultimately get its hands on the data. Moreover, many profiles were scoured without the owners’ knowledge.

Under pressure, Mark Zuckerberg delivered a mea culpa to CNN’s Laurie Segall, expressing willingness to perform “a full forensic audit” of Facebook, and testify before Congress if necessary. Facebook’s stock dropped both before and after the apology.

Zuckerberg conceded that users should know who pays for advertising they see on Facebook, and what material appears to various audiences. Facebook’s goal is to establish this “higher standard of transparency” before the U.S. midterm elections.

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