Did Data Mining Firm Cambridge Analytica swing the election for Najib? (and is your personal data safe with Facebook?)
Since I wrote this it has been announced that Facebook faces an FTC (Federal Trade Commission) probe into whether it violated the terms of a 2011 privacy settlement that was desgned to make it clearer how user data were shared. If found guilty, Facebook could face fines of $40,000 per affected user or potentially up to $2 trillion. (see the FT article here). If this were to happen it would wipe out Facebook’s market cap and potentially put it into Chapter 11, suggesting the market is still underestimating the possible downside, however unlikely the extreme scenario may be.
rice of Facebook (FB) dropped by almost 5%on the back of revelations uncovered in secret filming by UK’s Channel 4 into the practices of Cambridge Analytica (CA) and allegations that they have misused personal data.
Mark Zuckerberg has gone into hiding and the FaceBook chief security officer has resigned. Yesterday it was discovered that a Facebook team were in Cambridge Analytica’s London office, supposedly conducting a “forensic audit” after allegations that CA improperly obtained the private data of more than 50 million Facebook users. In response the UK’s Information Commissioner ordered Facebook’s auditors to stand down and “move away from the servers.”
Any thoughts that this investigation is limited to the UK and to the Brexit referendum and to Trump’s election were upset by CA’s Chief Executive Alexander Nix’s secretly filmed declaration that “we’ve done it in Malaysia”
Indeed in Malaysia – which has an Opposition worthy of the name, in contrast to Singapore- questions have already been asked of the ruling party Barisan Nasional as to whether they had used CA. Also CA has one of its 4 global offices in Kuala Lumpur (though the address listed is of a private house whose owner denies any connection:
Nix also mentions that CA has done the same thing in Brazil, a country whose politicians have received millions in bribes from Temasek-owned companies whose ultimate boss is LHL’s wife, Ho Ching. CA also takes credit for Kenya which saw great violence and loss of life during its election campaign.
Amongst other prurient revelations revealed by the secret filming were that CA’s techniques are not limited to wizardry with data but include sending in Ukrainian sex workers to trap politicians or offering them a deal too good to be true and capturing that bribe on video (something Singapore has admitted to doing for commercial advantage).
Who are Cambridge Analytica?
Carole Cadwalladr’s interview with Chris Wylie the whistleblower from CA tells us a lot about the company. It started with a Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan conducting allowable legal research into a few thousand accounts but who then used that to data mine 50 million accounts through friends and connections. He then sold his stolen Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook have known about this for 2 years but have only just suspended CA’s account.
The researcher Kogan has an interesting CV. A published academic who changed his name to Spectre after marrying Crystal Ying Spectre. This made him the sinister sounding Dr Spectre but also disrupted his record of publications which now appear under two names. Though he studied for a PHD in Hong Kong and there are reports that he moved to Singapore ( see below) so far there is no direct link. Either that or he has hidden his footsteps very well.
An article about Kogan and how CA swung the election for Trump in Motherboard in January 2017 (see here) said “Aleksandr Kogan then moved to Singapore (in 2013), married, and changed his name to Dr. Spectre.” Kogan appears still to be an assistant professor at Cambridge University where he is still listed despite having moved back to San Francisco and starting his own company. His divorce from Crystal Yang after just 3 years is also on record in California.
In response to the news a lot of people are disgusted by Facebook and/or afraid and are deleting their accounts. So should you delete yours too? I must admit it is disturbing to find out from Wylie that the App he helped develop can harvest all your information including your private messages. He does not confirm that messages have been used but says the CA app has the capability to look at them. If you thought your private messages were safe, think again.
What you need to know about FB, in case you were hopelessly naive and had not realised, is that it is a business. They do not charge you to use them so how are they to make money? If you are not a customer then you are a product, get used to it. Facebook did not get to an over US$500 billion market cap and make Mark Zuckerberg the world’s fifth richest person with a fortune of over US$70 billion (before the last day’s price fall) on the basis of philanthropy. Of course if CA and Kogan obtained FB data without permission from the users then they should be prosecuted.
Will I delete my account? Well I am in the unique position amongst Singaporeans of always presuming that the PAP have all my data anyway. I presume I am being tapped, monitored and mined and work from there. I have so many people “threaten” to remove my private correspondence that I have become a person who no longer expects any decent human behaviour form any human. Unlike the rest of you who self-censor in the naive belief that you can protect yourself, I don’t self censor. I say what needs to be said and do my best to tell the truth and not libel or defame. You can’t protect yourself by self-censoring or through any version of the “by-election effect” or by praising the PAP or even serving them for decades. If they want to get you they’ll get you as Low and Tan Chen Bock are now discovering.
But there is a reason I use Twitter. Not many of our politicians use it and it is not as active or has the reach of FB. So for this reason I presume it is not as useful to the PAP and therefore somewhat “safer”. You can find me here Don’t DM me though.
The big question after the news about Najib will be did the PAP make use of CA given they are conveniently HQ’d next door? I am sure they do not need to. However the current anger against FB and social media will probably give them a convenient excuse to bring in new laws to monitor Singaporean’s use of social media and control what they are allowed to view and particularly their access to foreign news. Perhaps, like China, we will get a uniquely Singaporean version of FB to keep us safe.
There is a real danger that, in an effort to find someone to blame and stop what the PAP call “freak results”, the pendulum could now swing too much the other way. In Singapore the PAP or the Government already has an IB army, though who pays for it is murky (perhaps it is paid for out of the PM’s Productivity Fund?).
For those who want to here is how to delete your FB account: