Between this and the fact that Team Obama pulled the same data-harvesting trick in 2012, with quiet acquiescence by the liberals in charge of Facebook, it’s going to be hard for Democrats to turn the Cambridge Analytica scandal into a Trump scandal.
Although stay tuned. Channel 4 in Britain is promising a segment today on CA’s U.S. activities, remember.
The Trump campaign never used the psychographic data at the heart of a whistleblower who once worked to help acquire the data’s reporting — principally because it was relatively new and of suspect quality and value…
In late September 2016, Cambridge and other data vendors were submitting bids to the Trump campaign. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the primaries and in the summer because it was never certain the Republican National Committee would be a willing, cooperative partner. Cambridge Analytica instead was a hedge against the RNC, in case it wouldn’t share its data.
The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. The Trump campaign had tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate than Cambridge Analytica’s, and when it was clear the RNC would be a willing partner, Mr. Trump’s campaign was able to rely solely on the RNC.
Team Trump did use CA for a major TV ad buy and some digital advertising, notes Major Garrett, but the crucial GOTV data came from the RNC. Why? Because, as noted, it was simply better. One thing you find in virtually every story about Cambridge Analytica, particularly when independent data nerds are quoted, is a sense that CA chronically overhypes its own abilities. That’s reason for caution about assuming too much from the head of the firm boasting on hidden camera about dirty tricks about bribes and hookers, too. Maybe Alexander Nix really is a Jedi master of “ratf***ing,” to borrow a political term of art. Or maybe he’s a bit of a chump who likes to present himself as James Bond to would-be clients to drum up business.
And maybe the reason Team Trump hired CA initially wasn’t because they had the secrets of the universe in their data but because the firm is owned by Robert Mercer, Trump’s patron, and all parties involved agreed that throwing a little campaign kickback cash CA’s way was the least Trump could do to express his gratitude.
The question being asked on the right this morning is why this is a scandal when Team Obama did the same thing in 2012 and were cheered by the media for their analytical savvy in doing so. Nominally the key difference is that Team O got permission from its Facebook fans to use the data it scraped from their — and their friends’ — profiles for political purposes whereas CA obtained that data under false pretenses, claiming that it was for academic use only. Read any story about the CA scandal written this week, though, and you’ll see that the attention to false pretenses pales by comparison to the breathless tones in which the amount of data scraped is described. It’s not the “academic use only” cover story that has people outraged, it’s the fact that so much data could be skimmed from Facebook and applied to self-interested purposes with users only dimly aware at best of what it was being used for. But … that’s what Obama’s team did too. And so did many, many other online outfits:
[T]housands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends, developing deep understandings of people’s relationships and preferences.
Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 invited outside developers to build their businesses off Facebook’s data, giving them ready access to the friend lists, “likes” and affinities that connect millions of Facebook users. Practically any engineer who could persuade a Facebook user to download an app or to sign into a website using Facebook’s popular “log-in through Facebook” feature would have been able to access not only the profile, behavior and location of that Facebook user but also that of all the user’s Facebook friends, developers said.
Whether the average Facebook user even understands what he’s permitting when he grants “permission” to an outfit like Obama’s is an open question. The guy who ran platform operations for Facebook in 2011-12 told the Guardian today that he warned the company that its freewheeling approach to sharing data with outside parties meant that they could never be sure what those parties were doing with the material. They didn’t audit those outside entities extensively and of course many users either didn’t read or didn’t understand the “permissions” they were granting for access to their data. The FTC was sufficiently worried about Facebook’s practices that it obtained a consent decree with the company in 2011 requiring Facebook to get user consent when it changes certain privacy settings. But how do you consent to having your data shared when an outside party is using your friend’s account, not yours, as a conduit to your information? The FTC is now investigating to see if that decree was breached in the CA matter, which could mean many billions in penalties.
And what happened if Facebook *did* catch an outside agent raking in massive amounts of data from the site? Well, if you were lucky and they liked you, nothing.
It's important to recognize there are differences between how Obama and Cambridge Analytics purported to use mass data from FB. But FB's response to discovering data harvesting in 2012 (which was technically against their terms) was still ¯_(ツ)_/¯
— Dan Nguyen (╯°□°)ノ wheres wallace string? (@dancow) March 20, 2018
If you missed it in yesterday’s post, this is one of Team O’s top data analysts admitting that Facebook looked the other way at extensive data scraping by the campaign because they wanted Obama to win:
They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.
— Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018
“[W]hen Obama did it,” writes Freddy Gray at the Spectator, “such practices were written up in glowing terms. His campaign’s social media tactics were widely lauded for harvesting ‘the power of friendship’. But when Trump or Brexit do it, apparently, it’s evil.” What’s the real “scandal” that’s driving media anxiety in this case, that CA used false pretenses to get the data or that it sought to use the data for a Bad Cause, i.e. Trump’s election?