Tag Archives: Profiling

“A Song for the Deaf” (and the Blind)

Songs for the Deaf, released on August 27 2002, was the third studio album by Queens of the Stone Age. There is a track on there called “A Song for the Deaf” with a line in the lyrics:

No talk will cure what’s lost, or save what’s left

That line does just fine at summing up my attitude to the long term prospects for the privacy of our data and our privacy rights as individuals. The multiplicity of additional data points that will become available with the mainstream adoption of wearables, AR, and VR squares the circle by adding kinematic fingerprinting and emotion detection to the digital surveillance arsenal.

The concerted effort by “authority” to normalise the invasion of our privacy as citizens of democracies will succeed. It is worth noting at this point that the historic permission to look at our (non-US citizens) data is for the most part secretively mandated or just plain illegal.

In the interim I simply see it as my hobby to be a contrarian and frankly I do not give one iota what that looks like to prospective employers, clients, or colleagues. Too many people look at you sideways these days when you seek to insist that we are throwing away our rights in favour of some US manufactured bogey-man fear figure.

But despite the ever increasing powers granted there are far too many people gainfully employed in law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the cottage industries and corporates that serve them to hope that one day their combined efforts might actually result in an improvement in the threat landscape.

Narrowing the Debate

One of the methods often used to divert attention from the overall issues that present themselves with respect to mass surveillance is to seek to narrow the debate. Some people will say that debating each element in isolation is enough. It is not.

The police-intelcom barrier or rather the lack of a barrier between police organizations and intelligence organizations or the illegal overriding of such barriers is one of the reasons why. Too many blurred lines exist. Mass surveillance data acquired for national security purposes now routinely ends up in the hands of local law enforcement investigating matters unrelated to national security.

The opacity of US laws and SIGINT collection methods is potentially an abuse of the rights of every defendant that comes in front of their Courts. Increasingly, that is just about anybody that they can lay their hands on, from anywhere. The US position on most of these matters is ephemeral. [Max Schrems maintains the main protections provided by the US for data privacy rights of EU citizens have no statutory basis and “could be altered tomorrow”]

To suggest that one can compartmentalise each different element of the mass surveillance equation and debate each piece of legislation on its own merits, to the exclusion of the others, is a fallacy.

They all add up to the same thing in the hands of the governments or organisations that possess the resources, access, and “authority” (normally self granted) to mine the data.

This post was prompted by Chris Gebhardt‍ and the article he penned on Peerlyst‍ titled “The US Government Should Have Access to All Encrypted Devices of US Citizens“.

I commented “I utterly disagree with your thesis on every level. I disagree with you on the basis that I do not accept your segmentation of rights and protections in statute that govern legacy personal freedoms, due process, habeas corpus, et al. and the stratagem that you have employed to roll them up into an argument for weakened privacy (encryption). I believe that your reliance on these legacy instruments makes the flawed assumption that they were correct. In my view, they were not.

Chris was keen to keep the debate focussed on the US. So I asked:

Maybe we can circumvent the specifics of either geography and focus the discussion on a universal question which is capable of also addressing the specifics of your argument. The US does not respect digital borders and engages in frequent – and as policyillegal searches and seizures in a clandestine manner for non natsec matters and “ordinary” criminal matters. Now the US having weathered the outrage storm is legislating vigourously for the normalisation of these abnormalities which were in fact illegal under traditional law also.

The debate between us therefore could be something like – to date have existing laws and the application and oversight of the powers granted by those laws served us well and if so are they also suited for export to the digital domain. If not, then why should those who currently enjoy freedoms in the digital domain subject themselves to laws that they disagreed with in the real world context or were shown to have been widely abused, and more specifically how can a body of agencies who gladly engaged in widespread illegal activities expect people to surrender to their request?

Chris replied:

That is fine but I believe it is a separate post. Perhaps you should start one. I started this one to specifically target the US privacy issue under Constitutional authority. International expectations are a completely different matter.

So here it is.

Image: Screen grab from the QOTSA video “Go With The Flow

ENDS

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.”

ENDS