Category Archives: Surveillance Capitalism

Profile of “genius” Parscale, who “won” for Trump & the Facebook political influence juggernaut

Parscale — and every political consultant in a similar situation — is doing this interview to build his business. The introduction of sophisticated digital tools to the process of electing candidates has resulted in a bumper crop of people claiming that they have mastered this inscrutable system and that you should hire them.

Fleshed out, Parscale is the man behind the Trump campaign’s digital media efforts in 2016. He was hired to create a website for $1,500 (as he explained in that “60 Minutes” interview) and then his role expanded until he was managing tens of millions of dollars intended to promote the presidential candidate online.

The point of the interview was, in part, to serve as a profile of Parscale but, more broadly, to explain the primary way in which those millions were spent. Per Parscale’s accounting, that was largely on Facebook advertising. Trump’s team advertised on other platforms, too, but “Facebook was the 500-pound gorilla, 80 percent of the budget kind of thing,” Parscale said.

If you do a search for Brad Parscale’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” the first thing that pops up above the results as of Monday morning is an ad for Brad Parscale. And that, in a nutshell, is Brad Parscale.

Right after the campaign, it was the firm Cambridge Analytica that was making this case, arguing that its black-box analysis of the psychology of American voters allowed Trump to target specific sorts of people with ads that dug deep into their brains to trigger a response. The company (owned in part by the family of Robert Mercer, which was in other ways essential to Trump’s success) wanted to convince future candidates that they could work their magic to get them elected, too.

To “60 Minutes,” Parscale dismissed that claim — in part because he was in the midst of claiming that he was the one with the magic touch. He didn’t think Cambridge Analytica’s system of creating “psychographic” profiles of people was sinister, he said — he just didn’t think it worked.

Which is a simply bizarre claim in the broader context. It isn’t that Parscale doesn’t think that building profiles of people to target ads to them doesn’t work. It’s that Parscale doesn’t seem to realize that this is basically what Facebook was doing for him, in real-time.

By its very nature, Facebook does a more complete and more robust version of what Cambridge Analytica claims to accomplish. In 2014, we explained how Facebook’s political tools work, how it combines data about what you’ve clicked with outside consumer data to get as complete a picture of who you are and what you like as anything that exists. But then it overlays the ability to advertise specific things to specific people — and to test and refine and improve on those ads.

This is what Parscale was describing to “60 Minutes” — not his genius, but Facebook’s. He shows the nifty tricks that you can do with Facebook, A/B testing (as the process is known) different versions of ads with different photos and ads that allow the most effective to quickly rise to the surface. He clearly used all of those secret buttons, clicks and technology that he sought, leveraging Facebook’s deep sense of its individual users and tools to target them. Stepping back, Parscale comes off like the guy who hires LeBron James to play on his team in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and then brags about his capable coaching. He’s an ad buyer, who lets the platform — say, on Google, when you search for his name — do the work.

The takeaway from the “60 Minutes” interview is simple. Facebook is a juggernaut that’s probably more influential in politics than it realizes itself. (See this New York magazine article to that end.)

Parscale says that his wife likes to say that “[he] was thrown into the Super Bowl, never played a game and won.” Right. It’s just that, in that example, he’s neither Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. At best, he’s the guy who decided to hire them.

Full story ‘60 Minutes’ profiles the genius who won Trump’s campaign: Facebook https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/10/09/60-minutes-profiles-the-genius-who-won-trumps-campaign-facebook/?utm_term=.5c686f2463e8

Lyrics for a Surveillance Society – The Hacking Suite for Governmental Interception

Lyrics by Hacking Team. Music by Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and several United States agencies including the DEA, FBI and Department of Defense.

Criminals and terrorists rely on mobile phones, tablets, lap tops and computers equipped with universal end-to-end encryption to hide their activity. Their secret communications and encrypted files can be critical to investigating, preventing and prosecuting crime. Hacking Team provides law enforcement an effective, easy-to-use solution. Law enforcement and intelligence communities worldwide rely on Hacking Team in their mission to keep citizens safe. The job has never been more challenging or more important.

You have new challenges today

Sensitive data is transmitted over encrypted channels

Often the information you want is not transmitted at all

Your target may be outside your monitoring domain

Is passive monitoring enough?

You need more ….

You want to look through your target’s eyes

You have to hack your target

While your target is …. Browsing the web, Exchanging documents, Receiving SMS, Crossing the borders

You have to hit many different platforms – Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian

You have to overcome encryption and capture relevant data – Skype & Voice Calls, Social Media, Target Location, Messaging, Relationship, Audio & Video

Being stealth and untraceable

Immune to protection systems

Hidden collection infrastructure

Deployed all over your country

Up to hundreds of thousands of targets

All managed from a single place

Exactly what we do

Remote Control System – Galileo – The Hacking Suite for Governmental Interception

Hacking Team – Rely On Us

ENDS

Boiling Privacy Frogs

I really wish that I understood more about psychology and the human condition. The behaviour that puzzles me over and over again and for which I have no explanation is our ability to observe something happening that is detrimental to us in every way and yet do nothing.

It is the “Boiling Frog Phenomenon” which was allegedly a 19th century science experiment where a frog was placed in a pan of boiling water, the frog quickly jumped out. However, when the frog was put in cold water and the water slowly boiled over time, the frog did not perceive the danger and just boiled to death. The hypothesis being that the change in temperature was so gradual that the frog did not realize it was boiling to death.

To demonstrate the same effect in terms of the privacy, surveillance, unwarranted government intrusion debate just trace the evolving public attitude to the J. Edgar Hoover’s Subversive Files, COINTELPRO, The Iraq WMD Lie, Snowden & PRISM, and WikiLeaks Vault 7.

I have come to the conclusion that in relation to our right to privacy that we are all frogs in tepid water, the temperature of which is starting to rise rapidly, and we have no intention of jumping out.

ENDS

The Laurel & Hardy of Cybersecurity

When Turnbull and Brandis shuffle off to some home for the bewildered in a few years it is all of us that will be left with the legacy of their carry-on.

Here are some of the victories that these two beauties have presided over, and they don’t even know how it works, not even a little bit:

In an effort to drag the continent out from under the “stupid boy” stereotype, the Lowy Institute for International Policy, has just attempted to polish a turd by proposing that despite everything “Australia might be on the right encryption-cracking track” after all.

“From a cyber security perspective, as Patrick Gray has pointed out, sufficient safeguards could be placed around these ‘updates’ to ensure that they couldn’t be reverse engineered – they wouldn’t need to be a ‘backdoor,’ open to abuse. And by focusing on a device rather than a specific app, the displacement effect, so obvious in focusing government efforts on just What’s App or Telegram, would not apply.

In theory then, this model appears promising. How closely it aligns with the legislation promised by Turnbull and George Brandis last week remains to be seen. But whichever legislative model Australia pursues, its progress will be watched closely by governments across the world. And of course, by a whole host of technology and communications companies.

Recent developments suggest that underneath the techno-babble, political point scoring and counter-terrorism blame game, governments the world over are faced by a very real policy problem. Australia may prove to be the test case for a policy solution that has far reaching consequences for privacy, technological development and the future of law enforcement operations.”

Try again gents.

ENDS

Australia Is A Proxy War for the Five Eyes & Also Hogwarts

The Aussie government is pushing a Five Eyes agenda. Australia seems to have become a proxy war in the ongoing assault on privacy. They are to the Surveillance Wars what Yemen is to the Saudi-Iran ideological conflict. It is always a good idea to vary the cast but in reality they are May acolytes. A testing ground.

The amount of nonsense emanating from the encryption debate Down Under though is astonishing. If you have not been keeping up to speed with some of the recent comments down under then here is a quick recap for you:

  1. The George Brandis metadata interview;
  2. George again (36th Attorney-General for Australia) and the summary of his “over a cuppa” conversation with the GCHQ chappie on the feasibility of reading messages sent by platforms implementing end to end encryption such as WhatsApp and Signal – “Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ … And he assured me that this was feasible.”;
  3. Malcolm Turnbull (the Prime Minister) and his alternative theory on the exceptional laws that govern Australian reality “Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia”;
  4. And a much more eloquent articulation by Troy Hunt of the whole phenomenon “Firstly, a quick apology from Australia: we’re sorry. Look, our Prime Minister and Attorney General didn’t try to launch us onto the World Encryption Comedy Stage but unfortunately, here we are.

In an effort to find something of the same equivalence on the stupidity index as 1-3 above I chose to google “Harry Potter and places where the laws of mathematics do not apply, excluding Australia and Hogwarts”.

One of the things that I found in the search results was the perfectly reasonably comment by a HP fan on a Reddit forum that “Gamp’s Laws of Transfiguration and the Fundamental Laws of Magic spring to mind, they’re pretty much what you can and can’t do with magic. They’re a lot like Newton’s Laws in that they both deal with nature.

This guy really meant it and so did the other guys he was chatting with. They all really, really believed or rather really, really wanted to believe that it was all real and true and factual.

Just like Brandis and Turnbull believe.

Totally lost in a universe of their own creation where mathematics and people work differently.

And then I found a scholarly dissertation by Shevaun Donelli O’Connell of Indiana University of Pennsylvania titled “Harry Potter and the Order of the Metatext: A Study of Nonfiction Fan Compositions and Disciplinary Writing

” which said on P.24 that “I already knew that Harry Potter was an important part of my relationships with my family and friends, but increasingly I realized that Harry Potter metaphors and analogies were working their way into my thinking and teaching about writing.“.

And there it was. The struggle is real. It seems many, many people are having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Christ help us when VRSNs arrive on the scene.

ENDS

The CIA Dark Triad – Windows, macOS & Linux

According to the WikiLeaks Vault 7 dump the CIA deploys malware that includes the capability to hack, remotely view and/or clone devices running the Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems.

This seems to suggest that the agency has no problem bypassing encryption, proxies, VPN and that Tor anonymity is a myth.

This does not mean that each of the point solutions offering a product under each of the above headings have been compromised. Rather it means that the OS level hack capability of the CIA – as seen on iOS and Android – means that they can gain full control of the device and render any point solution counter measures moot.

Therefore they subvert the platform which by extension means that anything that is running on the platform is subverted.

Tablet, laptop, smart-phone, AV device – it seems they are all fair game and in that case so is everything that you do on them.

You have been warned.

You are being watched.

ENDS

Mass Surveillance & The Oxford Comma Analogy

Acknowledgments, Contributions & References: This blog post was written in collaboration with and using contributions from Mr. Dean Webb (find Dean’s profile on PeerLyst). The clever and insightful bits are all Dean, the space fillers and punctuation are mine – except the “Oxford Comma” analogy, which even though it is lifted from @Grammarly on Twitter, is mine – and I like it (a lot). Enjoy.

Who Do We Like, Who Do We Dislike (Today)

Wearable tech is on its way, for surveillance during times when one is away from the vidscreen. But we need this stuff in order to protect against Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia. We will always be at war with Eurasia until 20 January, at noon. Then we will always have been at war with Eastasia. And then we will need all this stuff to protect against Eastasia.

On a more serious note, anonymity has been dead for quite some time. As an example, about 10 years ago Dean Webb was running a web forum for students involved in an academic competition.

He and other teachers had volunteered to be admins for the board. They had a student that began to harass others on the board and post some highly inappropriate material. They banned his account, and he would connect again with another account.

So, Dean took down the IP addresses he’d used for his accounts and did a quick lookup on their ownership. They were at a certain university, so he contacted that university with the information and the times of access and they were able to determine which student was involved.

He was told to stop posting, or face discipline at the university. That got him to stop.

Simple Methods, Complex Implications

The point is, that IP address and timestamp for most people is going to be what gets them in the end. They don’t know what a VPN is from a hole in the ground, let alone what a TOR node is.

At best, most of them will use a browser in anonymous / incognito mode, without realising that cookies are still retained and updated, credit card transactions remain on the record, and ISPs will still retain IP address information with timestamps.

It could be argued that a Layer 2 hijacking of someone else’s line is the way to go anonymously, but that involves a physical alteration of someone’s gear, and that means physical evidence, which is very difficult to erase completely.

Even if anonymity is not completely dead (mostly dead, perhaps?), it is certainly outside the reach of most people because they lack general IT knowledge about the basics of the Internet.

I (Graham) was met with the following comment when I posted a tweet some time before Xmas 2016 about Identity Theft:

“despite the hysteria the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential”

The use of the word “inconsequential” by the commenter on my post reminded me of the hilarious Doctor Evil therapy session monologue in the Austin Powers movie when Doctor Evil stated, when asked about his life, that “the details of my life are quite inconsequential”. But 60 seconds of monologue later it was quite clear that they were far from “inconsequential” – it is a matter of perspective as to what is and what is not. That is the problem. And that is the potential worry.

Threat Awareness & Counter Measures

The vast majority of people and their browsing habits are innocuous. The point though that the comment misses and which is the point that Dean makes in his comments about the average John Q. Citizen’s awareness of the threats and the countermeasures available is that the public in general has moved their private communications on to a platform where they do not understand the implications of the ability of externals to eavesdrop or to store and reference data at a future point.

There was a blog post I (Graham) made some time ago about the risk of “profiling” and of “false positives” and the threat that they posed especially with respect to miscarriages of justice. (See “The Sword of Islam” story below)

The point is not whether “the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential” or the storage of most peoples browsing history or contacts with other parties is / will be inconsequential or not – the point is that it can be made to look very different to what was actually happening originally.

Like a misquoted partial comment in a newspaper article – actions taken out of context can look very different.

The Oxford Comma Analogy

Recently I posted a tweet about the Oxford comma and it does indirectly inform the point that I am trying to make here:

Excerpt begins from Grammarly

“Unless you’re writing for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings.

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as stating that you love your parents, and your parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.”

Those who oppose the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that using the Oxford comma does. For example:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

could be rewritten as:

“I love Lady Gaga, Humpty Dumpty and my parents.”

Excerpt Ends

The analogy serves to demonstrate one of the main concerns of mass surveillance and mass retention of user data. People are now being profiled and tracked and their behaviours stored and analysed and they do not know why or by whom or for what purpose – they barely understand how to use a browser.

In the wrong hands that potentially makes them cannon fodder. Accuse me of being alarmist and dramatic – fair enough – so did everyone four years ago when I wrote about mass immigration as a weapon, the rise of radical Islam and the dangers of the USA supporting a sectarian Shi’a government in Baghdad, the marginalisation of Sunnis and the Ba’ath party, the randomness of the Arab Spring, the threat of Libya turning into a terrorist haven and so on.

The point is people ignore these developments at their peril but you may as well be talking to a concrete block. You can make all the compelling philosophical points that you like to someone but if they do not have the capacity to understand them then you are wasting your time.

And most of our politicians fall into that category.

Mass Profiling, Mass Surveillance Will Be Inconsequential Until It Isn’t

Dean once met a man named Saifal Islam. He has a devil of a time getting on an airplane because a terror group has the same name – “Sword of Islam”.

He is constantly explaining that the man (him) isn’t the group (them) and that he’s had his name longer than they’ve had theirs. That, yes, the group (them) should be banned from getting on airplanes, but that, no, the man (him) should be allowed on the plane.

Hell of a false positive, and that’s not the only one. Mismatches on felon voting lists, warrants served to the wrong address for no-knock police invasions, people told that they can’t renew driver’s licenses because they’re dead, the list goes on.

Be happy in the knowledge though that your data is apparently “inconsequential” and this privacy debate and the growing intrusion on your personal life is all “hysterical” alarmism.

You can use that statement when you are in the dock defending your very own hysterical “false positive” – no charge.

The next post will be “KarmaWare & Thieves of Thoughts” again in collaboration with Mr. Dean Webb.

ENDS