Tag Archives: Democracy

Some Members of Congress Are Trying To Invoke “CRA” To Sell Your Data

Congress is trying to strip away your online privacy rights.

Internet service provider knows a lot about you: the webpages you visit, the things you purchase, the people you talk to, and more. Last year, the federal government updated rules to ensure that the companies that act as gatekeepers to the Internet can’t compromise your privacy to make a profit. Those rules are set to go into effect this year.

Now some members of Congress are trying to change that.

Using a little-known tool called a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, some lawmakers want to not only repeal your privacy protections but also effectively prohibit the FCC from creating similar rules in the future.

That could leave consumers without a federal agency to protect online privacy rights.

You need to let your representatives in Congress know that they can’t put ISPs’ demands ahead of their constituents’ privacy.

Please call your lawmakers today and tell them to oppose the CRA resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules.

Posted on behalf of Electronic Frontier Foundation.


Is Kosinski “Tesla” to Nix’s “Marconi” for Big Data Psychographic Profiling?

Data Driven Democracy Where Opinions, Policies or Convictions Don’t Matter Just The Targeted Message on Facebook Dark Posts.

Cambridge Analytica (Steve Bannon, Board Member) owned by SCL (Strategic Communication Laboratories) – the self styled “premier election management agency” – and how they “helped” Trump, Farage, Brexit, Cruz, Ukraine, Nigeria, Nepal & Afghanistan influence outcomes using data modelling and psychographic profiling.

I HAD never heard of Mr. Kosinski until I read an article in Motherboard last week. The incredibly interesting read entitled The Data That Turned the World Upside Down was written by Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus who work for Das Magazin with additional research by Paul-Olivier Dehaye.

It discusses a series of intersections between the work of Mr. Kosinski, a vaguely sinister guy called Alexander James Ashburner Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica (board member Steve “Ahem” Bannon) and a seemingly innocuous chap called (in 2014) Aleksandr Kogan (now quite unbelievable known as Dr. Spectre (seriously)) with associations to a definitely sinister company called SCL, or Strategic Communication Laboratories who describe themselves as “the premier election management agency”.

The main points are this, but I strongly recommend that you read the original article:

  1. Kosinski and fellow student David Stillwell use data from a Facebook application called MyPersonality, that Stilwell developed in 2007, to create models from “personality profile” data acquired from users who opt-in to share their app answers with researchers. Kosinski and Stillwell are both doctoral candidates studying together in Cambridge University at the Psychometrics Centre;
  2. The MyPersonality app is an unexpected hit with millions of people submitting answers;
  3. They find that remarkably reliable deductions could be drawn from simple online actions. For example, men who “liked” the cosmetics brand MAC were slightly more likely to be gay; one of the best indicators for heterosexuality was “liking” Wu-Tang Clan. Followers of Lady Gaga were most probably extroverts, while those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts;
  4. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent);
  5. Kosinski continued to work on the models before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves;
  6. On the day that Kosinski published these findings, he received two phone calls. The threat of a lawsuit and a job offer. Both from Facebook;
  7. Around this time, in early 2014, Kosinski was approached by a young assistant professor in the psychology department called Aleksandr Kogan. He said he was inquiring on behalf of a company that was interested in Kosinski’s method, and wanted to access the MyPersonality database. Kogan wasn’t at liberty to reveal for what purpose; he was bound to secrecy;
  8. Kogan revealed the name of the company he was representing: SCL, or Strategic Communication Laboratories;
  9. Kosinski came to suspect that Kogan and a company that he had formed might have reproduced the Facebook “Likes”-based Big Five measurement tool in order to sell it to this election-influencing firm;
  10. Cambridge Analytica subsequently acted for Farage in the Brexit campaign and Republican Ted Cruz then they were hired by Trump;
  11. Cambridge Analytica buys personal data from a range of different sources, like land registries, automotive data, shopping data, bonus cards, club memberships, what magazines you read, what churches you attend. Nix displays the logos of globally active data brokers like Acxiom and Experian—in the US, almost all personal data is for sale. For example, if you want to know where Jewish women live, you can simply buy this information, phone numbers included. Now Cambridge Analytica aggregates this data with the electoral rolls of the Republican party and online data and calculates a Big Five personality profile. Digital footprints suddenly become real people with fears, needs, interests, and residential addresses;
  12. Trump’s striking inconsistencies, his much-criticized fickleness, and the resulting array of contradictory messages, suddenly turned out to be his great asset: a different message for every voter. The notion that Trump acted like a perfectly opportunistic algorithm following audience reactions is something the mathematician Cathy O’Neil observed in August 2016;
  13. Why did he behave like this?;
  14. “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven,” Alexander Nix remembers. On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook. The messages differed for the most part only in microscopic details, in order to target the recipients in the optimal psychological way: different headings, colors, captions, with a photo or video. This fine-tuning reaches all the way down to the smallest groups, Nix explained in an interview with us. “We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals.”;
  15. When did having an opinion or a conviction matter in a “data driven” democracy – it certainly did not seem to matter to Trump;
  16. In the Miami district of Little Haiti, for instance, Trump’s campaign provided inhabitants with news about the failure of the Clinton Foundation following the earthquake in Haiti, in order to keep them from voting for Hillary Clinton. This was one of the goals: to keep potential Clinton voters (which include wavering left-wingers, African-Americans, and young women) away from the ballot box, to “suppress” their vote, as one senior campaign official told Bloomberg in the weeks before the election. These “dark posts” – sponsored news-feed-style ads in Facebook timelines that can only be seen by users with specific profiles – seem to have been highly significant in Trump’s election;
  17. In a statement after the German publication of this article, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said, “Cambridge Analytica does not use data from Facebook. It has had no dealings with Dr. Michal Kosinski. It does not subcontract research. It does not use the same methodology. Psychographics was hardly used at all. Cambridge Analytica did not engage in efforts to discourage any Americans from casting their vote in the presidential election. Its efforts were solely directed towards increasing the number of voters in the election.”;
  18. Confusingly the Cambridge Analytica website states “Powered by smarter data modeling At Cambridge Analytica we use data modeling and psychographic profiling to grow audiences, identify key influencers, and connect with people in ways that move them to action. Our unique data sets and unparalleled modeling techniques help organizations across America build better relationships with their target audience across all media platforms.”


Being Sisyphus – They Made Desolation They Called It Peace: The Wheel & The Line

Nothing is happening today, on the 17th November 2016, that has not happened before. The key actors and the communication tools are two of the very few components that distinguish it from the same cycle seen since we possess reliable records that documented the causes of widespread social, political and economic upheaval.

Whether national, regional or global in nature the reach of events does not change the underlying indicator that the dynamics seen in the current climate have normally precipitated large scale conflict and suffering. Suffering endured mostly by those who have the least to gain from it.

Where events such as those that we are now witnessing have previously aligned it has produced a shift in power structures and the way society functions. In some cases it has been the door opener on an extended period of disastrous conflict.

Human history is a wheel and not a line.

Entrenchment along sectarian lines produces prejudice, suspicion and paranoia that leads to a stagnation or ceasing or suppression or even reversal of positive social change and human development.

A Dangerous Consensus

There is a consensus that despite all that has been said during the US Presidential elections that everyone should just wait and see what happens now that Trump is President-Elect and maybe it will not be as bad as it looked like it was going to be.

I would be interested to know from the people who subscribe to that thesis whether they can provide me with examples from history of where persons who preached extreme creeds prior to their election, takeovers or coups mellowed when they acquired real power.

Did Hitler and Stalin pursue their pre-Reichstag and pre-Purge attitudes with less vigour after they consolidated their position? Did Pol Pot calm down a little bit when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17 1975 and ended the Cambodian civil war? Did Lê Duẩn turn to love and peace when the Viet Cong took Saigon that same year? Did Mao Zedong give the remaining Kuomintang supporters in mainland China a break after two million of their comrades fled to Taiwan in 1949?

These are all rhetorical questions.

The Lesser of Two Evils

The US Presidential election was always a choice between the lesser of two evils.

The unfortunate fact is that a negative charter always ultimately has a negative outcome for all involved – just at different times. Whether the promoters, supporters or opponents – the tragic lesson from history is that everyone suffers.

Appeasement of radicals, facilitating enemies, alienating allies and encouraging the polarisation of social race based attitudes was wrong under the Obama administration. Jingoism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny is just as wrong if allowed in a Trump Administration.

The problem with politics, which is allegedly one of its strengths, is that you do not get to vote for the bits you like in a candidate and vote against the bits you don’t like. Politics should have the people voting on issues not for people. People are composite – issues are not.

Liberty versus The Tyranny of the Majority 

If I was an American citizen I would probable do exactly what I do as an Irish citizen when it comes to voting – that is not vote at all. I do not vote because I do not believe in the system. And I do not believe that by the act of not exercising my vote that I am failing myself and my ability to change the system. The belief that your vote counts is a fallacy in my opinion.

Voting just encourages politicians. Those people who denounce me for not voting are often the same people who vote in every election and subsequently complain that their party or candidate did not carry out the promise they voted for.

You have all heard it before but I place voting in the same category as the well worn quote that I now paraphrase: “Voting: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Alexis de Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty, he said

“I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights. I am neither of the revolutionary party nor of the conservative….Liberty is my foremost passion.”

His view on government reflects his belief in liberty and the need for individuals to be able to act freely while respecting others’ rights. Of centralised government, he wrote that it “excels in preventing, not doing.”

Strong Opinions an Extremist Do Not Always Make

I detest radical Islam not Islam. I detest Sharia Law not Muslims. I do not detest radical Islam and Sharia Law because I am a religious person. I detest it because it goes against liberty.

Liberty to allow a person love who they want to love. Liberty to allow a woman equality of opportunity, education and freedom from oppression. Liberty to allow individuals to exercise their right to lead the lives that they want – within the law – while doing no harm to others. Liberty to speak your mind – man, woman or child – without fear of persecution. Liberty to worship or not worship. Liberty to exercise health choices that are yours to make and not for others to generically legislate on.

By the same token I detest White Supremacists, Race Baiters and Hawkish Military who love the fight for the sake of the fight and not the principle being fought for or defended.

It Is Lazy To Label 

I hold opinions that have been described as extremist but they are not. It is possible to have strongly held views without being either Left or Right wing or any wing. It is possible to be a person with opinions that does not have a label to lump you in with a generalised view of people falling into one of a few distinct well defined categories with straight edges neatly separating them.

What the US election demonstrates is that the same sectarian polarised views that exist within extremist organisations globally exist within allegedly sensible democracies – they just dress better, look official, are sponsored by products people trust and endorsed by others who should know better.

While fighting things that threaten our values we must not compromise those values. de Tocqueville held the perverse view that:

“one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom”.

The fight for the future is not about picking a camp – it is about networks of people with common held views on decency, equality, tolerance and respect making sure that the lunatics do not take over the asylum.

A utopia will never exist – our challenge as decent people is to take de Tocqueville’s atrocious assertion and change it so that we can say:

“The human heart possesses a JUSTIFIED desire for equality. The STRONG must help the WEAK. No man should equate EQUALITY with SERVITUDE or INEQUALITY with FREEDOM”.

They Made Desolation They Called It Peace 

To lighten the mood in a debate where there is little room for humour in the current climate I would suggest that the future is about trying to figure out the duality of man and contradictions in human nature:

From a dialogue exchange between Pogue Colonel and Private Joker in the Stanley Kubrick movie Full Metal Jacket:

Pogue Colonel: Marine, what is that button on your body armor?

Private Joker: A peace symbol, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Where’d you get it?

Private Joker: I don’t remember, sir.

Pogue Colonel: What is that you’ve got written on your helmet?

Private Joker: “Born to Kill”, sir.

Pogue Colonel: You write “Born to Kill” on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?

Private Joker: No, sir.

Pogue Colonel: You’d better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you.

Private Joker: Yes, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you’ll be standing tall before the man.

Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.

Pogue Colonel: The what?

Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Whose side are you on, son?

Private Joker: Our side, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Don’t you love your country?

Private Joker: Yes, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?

Private Joker: Yes, sir.

Pogue Colonel: Son, all I’ve ever asked of my marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.

Private Joker: Aye-aye, sir.