Company’s work in 68 countries laid bare with release of more than 100,000 documents
Just when you think you have heard everything there was to know about Cambridge Analytica, someone goes and leaks over 100,000 documents.
The release of documents began on New Year’s Day on an anonymous Twitter account, @HindsightFiles, with links to material on elections in Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil. The documents were revealed to have come from Brittany Kaiser, an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower, and to be the same ones subpoenaed by Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Cory Doctorow provides a commentary on the current state of affairs involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Rather than blame the citizens of the web, he argues that the fault exists with the mechanics in the garage and the corruption that they have engaged with. The question that seems to remain is if this is so and we still want our car fixed, where do we go?
Cambridge Analytica are like stage mentalists: they’re doing something labor-intensive and pretending that it’s something supernatural. A stage mentalist will train for years to learn to quickly memorize a deck of cards and then claim that they can name your card thanks to their psychic powers. You never see the unglamorous, unimpressive memorization practice. source
The comparison between Cambridge Analytica (and big data in general) with the stage mentalist is intriguing. I am left wondering about the disappointment and disbelief in the truth. Sometimes there is a part of us that oddly wants to be mesmerised and to believe.
It’s fashionable to treat the dysfunctions of social media as the result of the naivete of early technologists, who failed to foresee these outcomes. The truth is that the ability to build Facebook-like services is relatively common. What was rare was the moral recklessness necessary to go through with it. source
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica raise the question of just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should.
Facebook doesn’t have a mind-control problem, it has a corruption problem. Cambridge Analytica didn’t convince decent people to become racists; they convinced racists to become voters. source
In relation to the question of mind-control verses corruption, I wonder where the difference exists. Does corruption involve some element of ‘mind-control’ to convince somebody that this is the answer?
This week has been fascinating, it appears that things have begun to recover after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which then led to the #deletefacebook movement. This movement seemed to have a small, but noticeable impact for a moment on the pages that I support.
Although it is easy to ‘delete Facebook’, doing so without a replacement fails to recognise its place – positive or negative – in our life and society. I remember when I used to live in the Victorian country side being amazed by the amount of Weeping Willows growing along the open channels that carried water between the various properties. An introduced species, they actually sapped up a lot of the water. I once asked the Outdoor Education teacher I was working alongside why they did not just remove them. He explained that to simply remove them actually causes even more damage through erosion. What is needed was to plant something next to the tree that would be able to take its place and fill the same purpose. Delete Facebook was therefore never going to work without there being a replacement in its place.
The Luddbrarian suggests that what makes the current campaign different is that the data breaches allowed Trump to win. This overlooks the problem at the base of such automated solutions.
Facebook offers people an easy way to stay in touch with friends, Facebook offers people an easy way to stay on top of the news, Facebook makes it easy for people to share photos, Facebook makes it easy to plan events (and to say whether or not you’re going to the event), Facebook makes it easy to promote your new creative project, and so forth. In order to obtain these “goods” on offer from Facebook a user must deal with the “bads” of Facebook – but that is why the bribe exists and how it operates. The offer of the good is used so that people overlook the bad.
What we need is to widen our technological imagination and consider how Facebook could be better. For me, the #IndieWeb is a part of that.
In reality, Facebook is designed to allow its partners to violate its users’ privacy, so the fact that Cambridge Analytica got caught with its hand in 80 million of our cookie-jars is an indication of how incompetent they were (they were the easiest to detect, in part because of their public boasting about their wrongdoing), and that means there are much worse scammers who are using Facebook to steal our data in ways that makes CA look like the petty grifters they are.
In the second of a two part series, Michael Brull looks at the scandal that is wiping billions of dollars in value off the world’s richest company… and it’s about much more than just social media and data mining. British news program on Channel 4 has exposed Cambridge Analytica and Facebook for what has becomeMore
Michael Brull looks at the scandal that is wiping billions of dollars in value off the world’s richest company… and it’s about much more than just social media and data mining. One of the things that stood out was how we even know what we know about Cambridge Analytica:
The reason we know about Cambridge Analytica is because of some British investigative reporters posing as Sri Lankans hoping to recruit them for a campaign. That is, our information about what other organisations like Cambridge Analytica do is fragmentary. We don’t know if the Clinton campaign acted similarly. We don’t know how they affected campaigning in Australia. We don’t know if they harvested data on Australians, or sold that data to Australian politicians, or their electoral campaigns.
The reality is, there is no way of truly knowing who is spending what when the information being generated is inserted into the bloodstream of the internet.
My concern is not Google, Facebook, and others that I give my data…my concern is the unseen/unknown companies that buy my data. Also, keep in mind that your biggest concern (in the U.S.) should be your Internet Service Provider (ISP). They’re sucking up your data, watching your searching/browsing habits, connecting this to your billing info, and selling/giving this off to everyone.
This is such an interesting topic Ian. I too have touched upon it in my newsletter. I agree with your point that there are bigger, dirtier parties at play within this area, I am just concerned about excluding the FANGS from the discussion.
I also wonder what ‘informed consent’ looks like in the future? I think improvements to the Terms and Conditions is only the beginning. It has me returning to Doug Belshaw’s elements:
At work we took another step with the reporting solution that we have been working on. This involved setting up two schools. There was a bit of a rush to have all the testing and documentation completed beforehand. However, the relative smoothness made it all worthwhile.
In regards to the family, our eldest daughter was playing a game on the iPad recently and I said that maybe one day she might code her own such game. She said she could, but she had already decided that she was going to be a performer. I feel challenged everyday by my role as a parent. Do I step in and suggest that maybe she does not sound as good as Sia as she belts out her rendition of Chandelier or do I just support her in dreaming big? At the moment, it is the later. Our youngest on the other hand must have found my copy of A More Beautiful Question as she has taken to asking the Five Whys about absolutely everything. I answer and answer again. My wife says that I will lose, but I don’t see it like that. It is about the conversation, right?
On a personal level, I find myself diving deeper into reflections these days, especially with my second blog providing a means of ongoing engagement. One of the side-effects has been my lack of engagement in spaces like Twitter. I still write extended responses when challenged, but I do not trawl through conversations or conference hashtags as much as I used to. I am left wondering what am I missing in my move more and more to RSS and curated feeds?
In regards to my writing, here was my month in posts:
Automation Generation – Although many talk about the power and potential of automation to aid us, sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves what this means and where the limits lay.
Inquiry classrooms (and inquiry teachers) are constructed day by day, session by session. Being conscious of the choreography of our teaching and the degree to which it amplifies or diminishes inquiry is a powerful way to build culture over time. These ‘hacks’ are simple but by making one change, we can gain insights to which we have been previously blind.
The Library of the Future – Deborah Netolicky reflects on her recent investigation into libraries. This include the history of libraries, as well as how they and those who work within them are defined. Her review of the literature found that libraries are: neutral and democratising; participatory and connected locally and globally; centred around learning, literacy, research, and knowledge; and, facilitators of interdisciplinarity. I have written about the future of libraries before, however Netolicky’s deep dive takes it a step further.
School libraries have been called instructional media centres, media centres, information centres, information commons, iCentres, learning labs, learning commons, digital libraries, and cybraries (Farmer, 2017). These terms are in some ways faddish and transitory. ‘Library’, however, has a deep and long tradition associated with it, although the spaces and tools of libraries change over time. Librarians in schools have also had many names, such as teacher librarian, library teacher, library media specialist, library media teacher, cybrarian, information navigator, information specialist, information professional, informationist, and information scientist (Farmer, 2017; Lankes, 2011). Lankes (2011) argues that the terms ‘library’ and ‘librarian’ are entwined with the concept of knowledge and learning. I have said before that those claiming disruption should embrace interrogation of their ideas. Does ‘library’ need to be disrupted, in what ways, and why (or why not)?
As students progress through Years 8, 9 & 10 in the coming years, there will increasingly be more and more time for students to self direct their Personalised Curriculum. This may include, but is not limited to: Acceleration of core curriculum subjects leading to early commencement of HSC in one or two subjects. If required, intervention strategies for those students who do not meet minimum national benchmark standards for literacy and numeracy. Early commencement of VET (Vocational and Educational Training) subjects either at school or through TAFE. Participation in Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), completion of digital badge courses or informal internships with local industry experts and ‘start ups’. Self-directed electives and collaborative projects as a result of students working with teachers with the following provocation: Knowing my Strengths, Motivations and Interests (SIM), how can I use my identified talents and affirmed capabilities to ensure a better world?
How to Write an Edu-book – Alex Quigley discusses his six steps to writing a book. In addition to the reflections from Mary Myatt, Tom Sherrington and Ryan Holiday, they offer a useful insight into the writing process. It is interesting to compare these with the process often taught in schools. Students often get straight into writing without being given initial planning time.
I wanted to share my own edu-bookery. It is important to state that for me, regular blogging and writing separate to a book is an excellent mental work-bench for writing a book, offering me the discipline needed to write habitually and at length. Still, my book writing process is really quite specific and I have fell upon a helpful habit in writing my latest book.
Assessing Assessment for Digital Making – Oliver Quinlan discusses the challenges associated with Black and Wiliam’s work on feedback and digital technologies. In the absence of defined criteria, he suggests using comparative judgement where feedback is gained by comparing with a similar object.
Comparative Judgement is a field relatively new to education practice that offers huge potential for this problem. It’s based on well established research that humans are relatively poor at making objective judgements about individual objects, but very good at making comparisons. Play a musical note to most people and ask them what it is and they will struggle. Play them two notes and ask them which is higher and they are likely to be successful. Repeat this several times, with a clever algorithm to keep track and present them with the right combinations and you can come up with a ranking. These rankings have been shown to be very reliable, even more so if you involve several people as ‘judges’.
One of the things that is funny is that these technologies get designed for a very particular idea of what they could be used for and then they twist in different ways.
Typing Tips: The How and Why of Teaching Students Keyboarding Skills – Kathleen Morris reflects on the place of typing in schools. She collects together a number of sites used to teach typing. It feels like we spend so much time debating handwriting sometimes that we forget about typing. Airelle Pardes suggests that the lack of a keyboard (and therefore typing) is one of the major reasons for the demise of the iPad in education. The discussion of typing also reminds me of a post from Catherine Gatt from a few years ago associated with assessing typing.
There are so many great games and online tools designed for younger students. Once students begin recognising the alphabet, I think they can begin learning to type. This can complement your teaching of traditional writing and literacy.
On the Need for Phone Free Classrooms – Pernille Ripp shares why her class will become phone free. A part of this problem is that the compulsive behaviour of social media and smart phones is by design. Douglas Rushkoff’s argues that other than teaching media, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc) should never be used by schools. Mike Niehoff’s concern is what happens in the future when people have not learnt independance and moderation?
I know that I have pushed the use of phones in our classrooms before on this blog, how I have written about using them purposefully, but I will no longer subscribe to the notion that when kids use their phones it is only because they are bored. It is too easy to say that if teachers just created relevant and engaging lessons then no child would use their phones improperly in our rooms. That’s not it, all of us with devices have had our attention spans rewired to constantly seek stimulus. To instantly seek something other than what we are doing. To constantly seek something different even if what we are doing is actually interesting. And not because what we seek out is so much better, look at most people’s Snapchat streaks and you will see irrelevant images of tables and floors and half faces simply to keep a streak alive. It is not that our students are leaving our teaching behind at all times because they are bored, it is more because many of us, adults and children alike, have lost the ability to focus on anything for a longer period of time.
Whereas “[e]ach generation is expected to lower barriers for adoption successively for the next generation” I wonder if it is maybe time to update some of the tooling from generation 1 and 2 to be more compatible with generations 3 and 4?
The story of the invention of the PDF may not have a legal battle at the center of it or a hook like a Suzanne Vega song to push its story forward, but it does have this scandal. And love it or hate it, Manafort’s awkward use of a tool used by basically everyone really highlights how prevalent the PDF really is.
Maybe I’m a weirdo, but I actually feel better when I accept the fact that there’s a good chance it’s not going to get easier. Then I can focus on this question: “How to keep going?” Whether you’ve burned out, just starting out, starting over, or even if you’ve had success beyond your wildest dreams, that question always remains: “How do you keep going?”
Many things that get labelled as “fads” might work for an individual teacher (although many things might work better) but they only become fads when divorced from their original meaning and then are spread around and are imposed on other teachers. Teachers, being brilliant, are able to make these things work as best they can, or at least to minimise harm, but they still have an opportunity cost. Worst still they add to our workload and drive teachers out of teaching.
Metrics, Thy Name is Vanity – Harold Jarche reflects on turning Google Analytics off. He instead suggests that the metric that matters (for him) is how many books he sells and how many people sign up to his courses. He gives the example of a course that had hundreds of likes and reposts, yet only one person actually registered. This has me thinking about which metric matters to me and the way in which I engage with others. Maybe Doug Belshaw is right in creating a committed group of supporters?
About a year ago I deleted Google Analytics from this website. I no longer know where visitors come from, what they find interesting, or what they click on. This has liberated my thinking and I believe has made my writing a bit better. I always wrote for myself but I would regularly peak at my statistics. Was my viewership going up? What did people read? How did they get there? What search terms were people using? — Who cares? There are a lot of numbers that ‘social media experts’ will tell you to maximize. But there are few that make any difference.
Consider this a rational corrective to centuries of dismissive shrugs, then: look for the gorilla. Do what we already automatically do with male art: assume there is something worthy and interesting hiding there. If you find it, admire it. And outline it, so that others will see it too. Once you point it out, we’ll never miss it again. And we will be better for seeing as obvious and inevitable something that previously – absent the instructions – we simply couldn’t perceive.
FOCUS ON … Cambridge Analytica
This month saw the revelation of the ways in which Cambridge Analytica used and abused data scraped from Facebook to nudge voters in the 2016 election. It remains to be seen whether this is the start of a new era. In part this reminds me of the changes in the way people saw things after Snowden. Thinking about Doug Belshaw’s web timeline, maybe this will mark a new era of informed consent. Here then is a collection of responses to the current crisis.
My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data – Ian Bogust discusses his experience creating a game on Facebook and explains how the Pandora’s box associated with external apps is one that they cannot be closed.
The people owned the web, tech giants stole it. This is how we take it back – Jonathon Freeland argues that Cambridge Analytica represents an attempt to reverse the internet’s push for the decentralization of power, to instead restore the traditional imbalance. The concern though is this recentralising of power is being done in such a way as if it were “the organic word of the crowd itself, spread virally from one person to another, with no traces or fingerprints left by those at the top.”
On The Obama Did The EXACT Same Thing Argument – Kin Lane explains that although Obama’s use of data may have been technically similar to Trump, the topics discussed in 2012 (big government, 2nd amendment, healthcare etc) were different to those pushed in 2016 (Mexicans coming for their jobs, the Muslim people coming to kills us, the community college mass shooting down the street being false flag, how queers and drug dealers should die, and how the Jews running the deep state had rigged the election.)
We were warned about Cambridge Analytica. Why didn’t we listen? – Nicole Kobie lists a raft of reports involving Facebook and shady uses of data, such as Obama’s 2012 campaign and 2015 revolutions about Cambridge Analytica. She contends that this time is different as there are a number of whistleblowers who have come forward.
Facebook’s Surveillance Machine – Zeynep Tufekei explains that what Cambridge Analytica did may not have been a breach, in the technical sense, but it was a breach of trust. Facebook failed to gain informed consent, leading to the exploitation of users and their data.
Fish that swim upstream & shipwrecks – Borrowing from the work of Paul Virilio, Benjamin Doxtdator explains that when we created social media, we also created the shipwreck that is Cambridge Analytica at the same time.
Facebook: is it time we all deleted our accounts? – Arwa Mahdawl explains that the issues associated with Cambridge Analytica are only the tip of the iceberg, as Facebook is only one of many platforms engaged in surveillance capitalism. The alternative though is not necessarily clear.
Facebooked, Googled And Recovering Imagination – Sherri Spelic returns to two books written about Google and Facebook, highlighting that many of the current concerns around regulation were identified then. In response, Spelic calls more more imagination, look up, pay attention and pause.
Facebook – to delete, or not to delete? – The Luddbrarian suggests that what makes the current #DeleteFacebook campaign different is that the data breaches allowed Trump to win. The problem with this is that it overlooks the problem at the base of such automated solutions. What we need is to widen our technological imagination and consider how Facebook could be better.
Don’t Delete Facebook. Do Something About It – Siva Vaidhyanathan suggests that it will take more than a few users leaving to impact Facebook, instead we need to turn our attention to activism and supporting collective groups, such as scientific organizations, universities, libraries, museums, newspapers and civic organizations.
It’s Time to Regulate the Internet – Franklin Foer says that the time has arrived for the United States to create its own regulatory infrastructure, designed to accord with our own values and traditions.
Back to the Blog – Dan Cohen suggests it is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, that is the bigger antagonist of the open web. His answer is to write more under our own banner as a model for those who are to come.
If we want a full and comprehensive debate about the role of data in our lives, we need to first appreciate that the analysis and use of our data is not restricted to the types of figures that we have been reading about in these recent stories – it is deeply embedded in the structures in which we live.
There is a war for your attention, and like all adversarial scenarios, the sides develop new countermeasures and then new tactics to overcome those countermeasures. The predator carves the prey, the prey carves the predator. To get a sense of just how far the state of the art has advanced since Farmville, fire up Universal Paperclips, the free browser game from game designer Frank Lantz, which challenges you to balance resource acquisition, timing, and resource allocation to create paperclips, progressing by purchasing upgraded paperclip-production and paperclip-marketing tools, until, eventually, you produce a sentient AI that turns the entire universe into paperclips, exterminating all life.
Jordan Erica Webber looks at how our data is being used to push political ideologies
Jordan Erica Webber takes a look at democracy in the digital age, an era in which social media platforms have enabled a new form of political advertising and data companies can provide those who wish to sway elections and referendums with the ability to micro-target individual voters’ private Facebook feeds. Whether this is right or wrong, is everyone forced down this path? I am reminded again of Weapons of Math Destruction