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Facebook

Our digital footprints shouldn’t be used against us

Can our digital footprints and data be used to manipulate our political opinions? Yes, but it was never the intention of scientists. The irony, in a world led by an American President that’s against science of any other kind bar psychometrics or keeping power. In 2008 Dr David Stillwell and Dr Michal Kosinski were students at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, when they launched a Facebook application called MyPersonality app. The research focused on five personality traits known as OCEAN. Openness (how open are you to new experiences?), Conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), Extroversion (how sociable are you?), Agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative are you?), and Neuroticism (are you easily upset?). They asked Facebook users psychometric questions such as these as well as psychological questions. This was done with a test called “The Big 5 test” and they asked users permission to use their Facebook profiles for their research. Users were given their personality profile in return and forty-percent of users agreed to share their Facebook profile data with them.     

They expected maybe a few dozen users to fill in the questionnaire but they ended up getting over a million responses. Their data set combining the psychometric scores with Facebook profiles was the largest ever to be collected. Over the next four years they measured the OCEAN data and compared these with other data points such as Facebook “likes,” content shared and where they lived. In 2012 Dr Kosinski reported that with the data of 68 “likes” he was able to predict things such as whether the user was a Democratic or Republican supporter, with 85% accuracy. With constant refining and testing of this model Dr Kosinski was soon able to evaluate a personality with just 70 Facebook likes, learning more about the person than what the person’s friends knew about them. A couple of weeks after this Facebook changed “likes” so that they were private by default. This doesn’t stop data collectors, many apps and online quizzes today still require access to your private data before you can even take the personality tests. If you want to evaluate yourself based on your Facebook “likes,” I will provide links at the end of the article for Dr Kosinski’s website which you can then compare with an OCEAN questionnaire. The original project has finished as such but it is still open for research, you can even find Monash university from Australia on there as a collaborator.   

Dr Kosinski realised that it wasn’t just about Facebook “likes” or even Facebook but that we also reveal things about ourselves when we’re not online. Our smartphone he concluded, is in itself a psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously. He worried what his research would mean in reverse and that essentially he had invented a people search engine that could possibly cause harm, rather than the original intentions of psychological research.

In 2014 Dr Kosinski was approached by a lecturer from Cambridge University’s psychology department. Dr Alexsandr Kogan, on behalf of a company called Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL) wanted access to the MyPersonality app. SCL was founded in 1993 by Nigel Oakes, a former Saatchi & Saatchi ad man with a penchant for psychology and behavioural profiling. He also established the Behavioural Dynamics Working Group to understand and potentially change people’s opinions in 1989. SCL has been involved in elections in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Europe, Latin America and The Caribbean. It has also worked for the UK Ministry of defence, the US state department, Sandia and NATO. It states on its websites that its methodology is approved purely because of its involvement with the latter, not anything to do with their success rate or ethics. Cambridge Analytica (CA) is an offshoot of SCL and was founded in July 2014.      

In the nineties, Mr Oakes employed two respected psychometrics professors, Professor Adrian Furnham and Professor Barrie Gunter. Both psychologists say that they were used by Mr Oakes to build credibility for his group. ‘I believe he is inappropriately using my name and reputation to further his career. He was unreliable and Prof. Gunter and I severed links with him’, Prof. Furnham wrote in an email. Prof. Gunter went further: ‘Adrian and I were  running our own small company providing consultancy services. Nigel made contact with us while he was working for the event division of Saatchi & Saatchi. As far as we were concerned Behavioural Dynamics was simply the name of a company he founded”, Prof. Gunter said. “Nigel didn’t have any qualifications in psychology. To have credibility he needed an association with bonafide psychologists, which is part of the reason that he brought us on board. But we found that no matter how hard we tried to rein him in, he would make all kinds of claims that we felt that we couldn’t substantiate, and that is why we stopped working for him’.          

In 2015 The Guardian reported that SCL found out about Dr Kosinski’s method from Dr Kogan in early 2014. After Dr Kogan was turned down by Dr Kosinski he established his own company called Global Science Research Ltd in May 2014. It also reported that he began working with SCL to deliver a “large research project” in the US. His stated aim was to get as close to every US Facebook user into their dataset as he could. He used Mechanical Turk (MTurk) which is Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace, to access Facebook profiles. He recruited MTurk users by paying them around a dollar to take a personality questionnaire that also gave access to their Facebook profiles. He promised that their Facebook data would “only be used for research purposes” and would remain “anonymous and safe”. Some complained that he was violating MTurk terms of service. “They want you to log into Facebook and then download a bunch of your information,” was one complaint at the time. Dr Kogan also captured all of the data of each MTurk users’ friends and at that time Facebook users had an average of 340 friends each.

This data was then used to generate models of their personalities using the OCEAN scale. Within a just a few months dr Kogan’s business partner gloated on LinkedIn that their company “owns a massive data pool of 40+ million individuals across the United States – for each of whom we have generated detailed characteristic and trait profiles”. Dr Kogan was unable in email to explain where all of the data came from as he was restricted by various confidentiality agreements and said that SCL was no longer a client. After Dr Kosinski read the Guardian reports he believed that Dr Kogan replicated his measurement tool and that he had sold it to SCL. Interestingly, Dr Kogan changed his name not long after this and is now known as Dr Spectre.

In November 2015, former Ukip leader and UK politician Nigel Farage, was supporting the “Leave European Union” campaign and announced that it had commissioned CA to support its online campaign. The results as we know now, is that Britain is leaving the European Union (EU). A record number of Google searches after the polls had closed asking ‘What happens if we leave the EU?’ suggests that many people didn’t know why they voted to leave or what the consequences of their vote meant.

CEO of CA, Alexander Nix describes their marketing success as being based on three elements: behavioural science using the OCEAN model, big data analysis and ad targeting. CA buys personal data from places like land registries, automobile data, shopping data, loyalty card data, club memberships, magazines that you read and what places of worship that you attend. They also use “surveys on social media” and Facebook data. There are data brokers such as Acxiom and Experian in the US for example, where you can get almost any personal data that you desire for a price. If you wanted to know where Indian women live for example, you can just buy it, phone numbers included. CA can then add this data to the electoral rolls of the Republican party alongside their OCEAN and social media data. “We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America-220 million people” Mr Nix boasts. Which was exactly what Dr Kosinski feared.

“They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT” was a telling tweet by then Presidential candidate, Donald Trump on the 18th August 2016. Robert Mercer is a billionaire that started out financially backing Ted Cruz in the Presidential race but when he fell out of the race he supported Mr Trump to the tune of $13.5 million. He was Mr Trump’s biggest donor. Mr Mercer started out his career with IBM as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He is credited with “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s use of artificial intelligence. He later became CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money through algorithms on the financial markets. Nick Patterson, a British cryptographer, described how he was the one who talent-spotted Mercer. “There was an elite group working at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recognition, and when I joined Renaissance I judged that the mathematics we were trying to apply to financial markets were very similar.” One of its funds Medallion, that manages its employees’ money is the most successful in the world. It’s generated $55 billion so far. Mr Mercer also likes to fund such things as climate change denialist think tank, The Heartland Institute and right-wing news site Breitbart News. In fact it was $10 million of his own funding that enabled Steve Bannon, who is now President Trump’s chief strategist, to set up Breitbart News. Mr Mercer also has a $10 million stake in CA.

Mr Nix has also explained how most of Donald Trump’s messaging during his election campaign was data driven. CA divided the US population into 32 personality types and focused on just 17 states. They discovered that a preference for cars being made in the US for example, was a pretty good indication that they were a potential Trump voter. Similar tactics were used with gun ownership on the show “House of Cards” in season four. The episode focused on government “terrorism” surveillance data being used to influence gun-toting voters opinions, for their own means.

CA registered in Australia before our federal election last year and several state elections. It hasn’t lodged any financial disclosures as yet in Australia. They have registered an Australian office at a property currently being redeveloped in Sydney in Maroubra, corporate filings show. Mr Nix and Matt Oczkowski will be in the country next week for ADMA as guest speakers at a data analytics conference. They will also be meeting with Liberal party officials. In a country that has 10 percent of the population in comparison to the US, I personally can’t see too much damage. But what I do take offence to is another country trying to affect our countries voting outcomes. It doesn’t matter if you are English, Russian or American you have no right to manipulate voting intentions and we must legislate for our sovereignty now. For those curious about what makes you or your friends tick, or a little bit of insight into your personality, please feel secure in trying the links below:

https://applymagicsauce.com/

https://discovermyprofile.com/


9 comments

  1. Harquebus

    Thank you Mel. This issue does not get enough attention.

    Digital surveillance has been a concern of mine for quite some time. It is not necessary any longer to voluntarily hand over our information.

    Something I read a couple of days ago and relates to the U.S. What is happening in Australia we are unlikely to ever know.

    “You’re Known, Your Vehicle Is Known, Your Daily Itinerary, Shopping Habits… It’s All Being Recorded”
    http://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/the-transformation-of-our-nation-into-a-complete-surveillance-state-is-almost-in-place-youre-known-your-vehicle-is-known-your-daily-itinerary-shopping-habits-its-all-being-recorded_03272017

    The DNS solution that I offered in this article effectively and legally bypasses the website blocking recently imposed by our government and courts.
    http://theaimn.com/avoiding-data-retention/

    “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” — Edward Snowden

    Cheers.

  2. kizhmet

    Thank you Mel. Scary reading. This message needs to be shouted from the rooftops! So many of us are complicit in our own demise 🙁

  3. Mick Byron

    Almost daily more examples of the internet fraught with danger for individuals freedoms and privacy come forward

    Francis Rawls has already spent 17 months in US jail and will stay there indefinitely unless he provides passwords to unlock his encrypted hard drives. A former Philadelphia police officer has so far refused to do so, citing the 5th amendment, which protects him from self-incrimination.
    His case is of interest for civil liberties campaigners, who claim that citizens should have the right to protect their private data and to be protected from self-incrimination. The problem is that the suspected nature of the encrypted content on the hard drives leads to an ethical quandary: the drives are believed to contain images of child sexual abuse. This mean that organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) must defend a suspected pedophile if they want to stand up for the rights of citizens across the United States.

    UK Police Accused of Using Hackers to Access Emails
    It became known that British watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit may have used hackers to access the private emails of hundreds of protesters. The information was received from an anonymous individual who revealed that the unit cooperated with Indian police. The latter used hackers to break into email accounts of the political campaigners and journalists.

    British Government Can Force Encryption Removal
    The UK government has the right to compel tech firms to remove end-to-end encryption. However, it is avoiding using existing legislation, because this move is likely to force it into a battle it would eventually lose.

    No More Privacy Protections for American Consumers’ Web Browsing History

    US politicians voted to kill privacy rules designed to prevent ISPs from selling their subscribers’ web browsing and app usage histories to advertisers.

    Copyright Owners Warned about Upcoming Blockades in Australia

    The most popular torrent websites have just received paperwork from major movie studios, including Village Roadshow, Universal, Warner and Disney, notifying them that a blocking application had already been filed in Australia, and local Internet service providers are not going to contest the action.

    https://extratorrent.one/articles/?page=1

  4. John Haly

    Thanks Mel,
    What with the government survellance on our “metadata” (whatever Brandis thinks that is) now we have the private Corporates doing the same but probably with greater competence than our government. Tony and George didn’t even know what metadata was when they put in place laws to exploit it.

    We purchased an eBlocker from Germany and attached it to our network a while back just to keep the snoops out of our backyard. Great device as it turns out. If these guys can misuse the data you can bet your bottom dollar they will. When have they (pick a government) ever failed to use such advantage to take advantage. There is something about the political malaise that most western countries seem to be suffering from (with some notable exceptions in Europe) that needs radical addressing.

    Having said that will probably trigger metadata alarms somewhere. Typing this via a public wifi just to mess with them but then using my real name on the post is not going to help. Mind you I already have my name of articles here and elsewhere telling the elite what I think of them so they are welcome to read my opinions. If only it would make a difference. Just make sure you spell my name correctly on the Stazi arrest warrant for my seditionist remarks.

  5. Michael Taylor

    I don’t know if this is fake news or not (I haven’t researched it yet), but I heard on an American show that the Manchester Police Dept has approved the FBI to deploy 70 ‘face recognition’ drones in their city to keep an eye on visiting Americans.

    It sounds too futuristic and incredible to be true. But nonetheless it wouldn’t surprise me.

  6. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor
    I haven’t heard about that one yet but, like you, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    “Approximately half of adult Americans’ photographs are stored in facial recognition databases that can be accessed by the FBI”
    http://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/facial-recognition-tech-could-ensnare-millions-of-innocent-americans-for-crimes-they-didnt-commit_03302017

    There is nothing fake about the Five Eyes alliance nor its predecessor; ECHELON.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON

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