David Carroll, an academic who studies online privacy, files suit against Cambridge Analytica in hopes of acquiring a copy of his psychographic targeting profile

Last week, when it became public knowledge that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal information of over 50 million unsuspecting Facebook users, allowing the Robert Mercer-owned political consulting firm to build a “psychological warfare weapon” that, according to one of the men involved, existed to exploit the “inner demons” of Americans for political gain, David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design, took the opportunity to file suit against the political analytics company in UK court, demanding that they disclose both the data they had collected on him via his social media presence and the psychographic targeting profile they’d produced with said data. [While Carroll’s UK filing is new, he’s been attempting to acquire this information for some time in the United States.] The following comes by way of the Guardian.

…In his statement to the high court, Carroll says he brought the action as part of “a general desire to ensure that my personal data was not used for purposes I consider unsettling or unlawful. This was particularly true with respect to my political opinions.”

He told the Guardian his “great concern” was that if voters received through social media messages tailored to their beliefs and personality, ideas about shared reality and shared sense of civic discourse would be eroded.

“Can this democracy survive this micro-targeting machine,” he asked, “and is it going to erode the idea of the public sphere for advertising purposes?”

In his statement to the court, Carroll said he was “concerned that I may have been targeted with messages that criticized [Democratic 2016 presidential candidate] Hillary Clinton with falsified or exaggerated information that negatively affected my sentiment about her candidacy and consequently discouraged me from engaging with the Clinton campaign as a formal or informal volunteer.”

But Carroll says he is not motivated by political partisanship.

“The escalation and weaponization of data is really concerning,” he told the Guardian, “and we have to make sure we understand the effects before we allow this to just run its course.”

Cambridge Analytica has described his claims as “unfounded” and said: “Unfortunately, he is wasting other people’s money with this spurious legal action.”

A special House of Commons committee headed by Collins visited Washington DC last month, questioning media and tech executives about fake news and misinformation in the political sphere, including the 2016 referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The direction of the questions posed by the UK politicians to Facebook and Twitter executives, Carroll believes, hinted that committee members already knew about third-party developer access, data retention and verification. “It looked like parliament had known about this for a while,” he said…

For those of you who are unaware of Carroll’s work, here’s video of a keynote he gave recently at the NYC Media Lab summit about data, design, privacy and democracy. [I’d intended to watch an episode of Columbo tonight, but instead got sucked into this. It’s that damn good. It’s “better than Columbo” good.]

And, here, for those of you who still want more, is a clip from an interview with Carroll that the Columbia Journalism Review just put out today.

I know, right now, we’re fighting about guns, and rightfully so, but, this is the battleground of the future. In and age weaponized data and targeting algorithms that grow more sophisticated by the day, where our online personas have virtually no protection, where were expected to forgo privacy in return for being able to exist in the modern world, what chance do we really have to maintain a healthy democracy? We can debate how successful Cambridge Alalytica was in their 2016 psychographic campaign, and whether or not it really had an effect on the outcome of the election. I don’t think, however, that we can debate the threat all of this poses going forward. Now that we’ve seen a glimpse of what’s on the horizon, we have to act.

One last thing… I’d like to leave you with this 2010 quote from American cryptographer and privacy activist Bruce Schneier: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product. Its customers are the advertisers.

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21 Comments

  1. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I would imagine we have a right to know what information is being gathered and to what ends and to participate or not. We knew our online data was being used to sell us stuff. Why did we imagine candidates and disinformation weren’t a piece of that? They have been in all past forms of advertising as payment for free media.

    The larger question, for me, is not what are our rights, but what are our responsibilities in the age of weaponized data?

    We were taken as a nation with a system that we all knew to be in place. By which I mean we knew data farming was happening and that that was the revenue model for FB etc. We did not think we were vulnerable to it. And our exploited vulnerability is what makes us angry.

    This is not about what was done to us, but what we allowed to be done to us. The rights required to address this vulnerability going forward should simply allow us to meet our own responsibility to not to be easy marks.

    What interests me about Carroll’s suit is finding out just how well the algorithm really works? What if we were taken by the bluntest of instruments? I think re populism, what works is often not very sophisticated. It’s not a sophisticated con. It’s simply a play to emotions, many of them unconscious and bias/resentment ridden. What was notable to me in 2016 was how willing the voters were to be duped. How, under the sway of idolatry and cult of personality, under the sway of hearing confirmation of their own biases, their capacity for critical thinking was completely eroded.

    It did not take much, from my view, for a whole lot of supposedly irreligious progressive Americans to turn into true believers re Sanders and buy deeply into a narrative peddled by the right about HRC leading, in part, to Trump’s victory.

    It seems convenient to have Cambridge Analytica to blame.

  2. M
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I agree, at least to some extent, about Cambridge Analytica, Jean. I don’t believe they “stole” the election, at least not a traditional sense. While I suspect they contributed mightily toward the poisonous anti-Clinton atmosphere, I don’t know that I’d lay all the blame at their feet, as the right was laying the groundwork decades before either Facebook or Cambridge Analytica even launched. At the same time, though, we’ll never know how things might have played out differently had Cambridge Analytica not found a willing partner in Facebook. This election was, after all, decided by just a few tens of thousands of people in three swing states. The thing I’m more concerned about now isn’t who’s to blame (I think it’s pretty obvious), or whether the guilty will be brought to justice (they will), though, but how we’ll move forward.

    How will we learn from this? How will we reintegrate the 25% of American adults who still support Trump back into to civil society? How will we regulate companies like Facebook to ensure that things like this never happen again? How will we save and strengthen public education, address media literacy in our schools, etc?

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Someone on Twitter calling herself @MsAnneBoleyn.

    This is hard to write…

    My husband of 33 years, a Veteran, was changed from a Conservative into an extreme alt-right crazy. Who is to blame? FUCKING FACEBOOK! Constant Clickbait. I feel like I’m married to a stranger.

    Class Action against Facebook?

    I’m in.

  4. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Is there any expectation of privacy for information voluntarily posted on Facebook? What laws were broken? Is it OK for Facebook to use this information for profit, but not OK for others to use it for another purpose? Would it be OK if a person accepted a privacy statement that said their personal information would be exploited for political purposes?

    I read the bomber in Texas was caught because the government captured a history of all recent cell phone users in the vicinity of each bomb. It took a few minutes after the guy turned on his phone for them to locate him. Does anyone have any expectation of privacy anywhere? I don’t know the answers – I’m just asking.

  5. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I know a fair number of Trump supporters. They are already ‘integrated into American society.’ They are not idiots. They voted for Trump thinking he would disrupt the status quo and he has. If you want to start moving them to more moderation, you might start with not demonizing them. They sound a lot like Bernie supporters to me. You probably should start by working on those people on the left who believe our media and Govt institutions are corrupt and don’t properly value the institutions that secure our democracy. As for Trump voters, I think you really need to talk to More of them IRL.

  6. Lynne
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Part of me wonders how new this really is. I mean, for most of human history we lived in groups small enough that everyone knew everyone else’s business to a much greater degree than we do know, even with social media. I am sure such individual manipulation must have been a regular thing in the past. The difference seems to be that now technology allows us to scale it larger.

    I am not sure of the solutions or at least not immediate ones. A good long term solution would be to teach children critical thinking in schools but even then I worry because so much of the current manipulation is emotional.

  7. wobblie
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    some helpful ways to minimize the snooping
    http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-change-facebook-privacy-and-tracking-settings-2016-5

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Yes, re appeal to emotion. We have to get smarter. Please note that more marginalized folk are less likely to fall for political appeals to emotion, at least outside their group. It would be help if we learned to value critical voices, and opposing voices as necessary balance. Hard to do in such high stakes times, but absolutely necessary to improving functionality to our political process. Please note that by ‘value’ I do not mean acquiescence. I do not mean being polite and withholding counter. (What is more condescending to other belief systems that withholding valid criticism?) I also do not mean we should countenance it validate views based on outright and open hatred. There are relatively few Americans who are open racists and yet we have allowed a system to develop that systemically marginalized POC at every turn. So obviously those open racists are not the issue. The most important form of critical analysis is self-criticism. I blame Freud and his psychological models that have dominated our intellectual reasoning for the last 100 years for this idea that self-criticism is to be avoided. I’m cool with avoiding shame but self critique is necessary and is actually an antidote to shame properly approached. The current cult of Positive thinking is effective in motivating people; it’s also a path to denialism. And for all but the very privileged, denialism has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass.

    As a friend of mine opined drunk about 25 years ago at Bee Years, ‘There’s all these people running around with great self-esteem accomplishing things and not seeing that they are ruining people’s lives in the process.’

  9. wobblie
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t want to go to business insider, here is another
    http://www.iflscience.com/technology/how-to-see-and-block-all-the-apps-tracking-you-on-facebook/

  10. M
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    “I know a fair number of Trump supporters. They are already ‘integrated into American society.’ They are not idiots. They voted for Trump thinking he would disrupt the status quo and he has. If you want to start moving them to more moderation, you might start with not demonizing them. ”

    First, I would argue that, if you’re still with Trump, you’re deserving of demonization. While I suppose it might be true that some good, sane, bright people are still in the Trump camp, even with the race-baiting, pussy-grabbing, Putin-loving, self-dealing, money laundering, serial lying, and incompetence, I have to believe it’s a statistically insignificant population. For the most part, I think his fans are terrified racists who honestly think that, were it not for affirmative action and taxes, they’d be captains of industry, grabbing pussy right alongside Donald J. Trump. But, to your point, yes, the Trump tent is more broad than just hate, fear and race voters. It also covers those who support him, even though they know that he’s a cancer, because they feel as though he’ll serve their interests by cutting taxes, closing schools, putting more people of color into jail, etc. And those people, I think, are even more deserving of demonization than the straight-up racists.

    When I mentioned reintegrating people into civil society, it wasn’t hyperbole. There is a significant portion of the population that doesn’t accept reality. They truly believe that Trump is being set up by evil Democrats like Robert Mueller (who is a Republican) and Hillary Clinton. And we need to figure out a way to bring them back to reality. And I think that’s likely more important than getting Trump in jail. So, for what it’s worth, I think we should strike a deal where, in exchange for his freedom, he tells the American people exactly what happened, how he came to power, and what the Russians have on him. That’s the only way, I think, to get people in their MAGA hats to accept the reality of the situation. Otherwise, this is going to just keep festering.

  11. stupid hick
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    “There is a significant portion of the population that doesn’t accept reality. They truly believe that Trump is being set up by evil Democrats like Robert Mueller (who is a Republican) and Hillary Clinton. And we need to figure out a way to bring them back to reality.”

    What if the reality is there is nothing you can do? Did you learn anything from your interaction with Hyborian Warlord?

  12. Jcp2
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    How do you reintegrate half of America into your version of America, when the other half feels likewise about your half?

  13. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Trump is being aggressively pursued by Dems very eager to oust him. This may be warranted to us not not in their minds. When Nixon resigned 42% of Republicans still supported him. That changed as more information wS revealed. The Mueller investigation is not over. Itscreasonabkr for anyone, much less Trump supporters, to wait for due process, to at least wait for the investigation to conclude. The left, in its impatience and eagerness, is at least as unrealistic as Trump supporters. That Hamilton electorate thing was completely ridiculous. And you bought into that. Because humans are unwilling to accept reality that does not conform to their worldview. But eventually they do.

    Mark— Your demonization Of Trump extends to his supporters. And it’s extraordinarily one sided in its POV. If you want to sway Trump voters, I suggest you start there.

  14. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Mark— you need to start being critical of the left too. It’s one thing to be partisan. It’s anothet to be blindly so. There’s plants of rAcism and self interest to go around. Last I checked, liberal Dems had a heavy hand in promoting charters and destroying the public schools. It’s just a little gross to ignore the complexity of things and how fucked up all humans are. viewing one group of humans as more fucked up in the name of countering bias is, well… fucked up.
    The idea that GOP are less caring, more selfish and more racist are all things i’d Question as there is plenty of evidence of all three on the left as well.

  15. Jean Henry
    Posted March 22, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I, hereby, promise to stop posting from my phone in the dark.

  16. stupid hick
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    “If you want to sway Trump voters, I suggest you start there.”

    Wrong. You’re still operating under the same illusion as Mark. What did you, Jean Henry, learn from Hyborian Warlord? You did succeed in driving him away. Is that the best outcome you could hope for? I wish he were still here to watch you butt your head against immovable crazy. Except maybe better if you would both limit your comments to 10 per day on any one story. I do find it fascinating yet there’s only so much futile discourse I can consume in one sitting.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    HW was in no way reflective of most Trump supporters. Totally different perspective than most I know. And a lot more paranoid, self-inflated and dangerous.

  18. Lynne
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Most Trump voters I know did not vote for him in the primary. I think if given a more reasonable choice, they would take it. They voted for him in the general election for the usual racist and sexist reasons but also because they are tribal. Not all of them still support him.

    I know some of the Russian Orthodox folks I know who voted for him are really pissed off about the travel bans which ban immigrants and refugees from Syria. Why? Because there are a lot of Orthodox Christians in Syria and they are banned now too. They openly complain that a Muslim ban would have been ok but this ban which is keeping good Orthodox Christians out is not ok. They do not even for a minute see how that is racist and disagree that the first amendment means that a Muslim ban would be illegal on the grounds of favoring one religion over another. They aren’t otherwise horrible people at least not to me, someone they consider part of their tribe. It is tribalism at its finest though.

    The answer is to work on getting people to expand their circles. We can do this as a nation and have (see the expanding concept of whiteness where at one time only WASPs had the privilege and now other groups, including btw the Russian immigrants I come from, are considered ‘white’ when they may not have been before. I can remember reading old newspaper stories about how it was a big deal for a Catholic to become president. Anyways, we need to find ways to encourage people to expand their circles of who they consider to be part of their tribe until we get global about it and consider the needs of poor people in other parts of the world as important as the needs of people here (*the left with their anti free trade positions could stand to do this*)

    I think we are already headed in that direction though. It will take a long time but if we can manage not to kill ourselves first, I have great hopes for a better future where all humans care about all other humans, even if they are on the other side of the world.

  19. wobblie
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Lynn, I may be wrong but I don’t think religious bigotry counts as “racism”. Admittedly race is an artificial construct and until the middle of the 20th. century, being “white” excluded lots of Caucasian folks. By the way, when dealing with Russian immigrants being let into the WASP circle it was always political, were you a “white Russian”, or a “red”.

  20. Lynne
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Fair enough but we don’t have a great word for bigotry based on religion. And what is a race anyways? An artificial construct. The point is that the dominant group that we call “white” is just as artificial and constantly changing and fortunately expanding. We just need to expand it more and one way to do that is to work hard to get marginalized people into positions of power.

    My great grandparents immigrated here about a decade or so before the revolution. But based on what my grandmother has told me about her parents, I would guess White. They all were deeply religious and felt the USSR was oppressing the Orthodox. My grandfather never talked much about his parents but my grandmother told me that his mother as a very nice woman and that things were hard for them because his father died in the Spanish Flu. They moved to the USA in the early part of the 20th century and formed a community in eastern Pennsylvania with other Russians. My great grandparents who came here never learned how to speak English. I always think of that when people start bitching about immigrants not learning the language and have on occasion needed to remind members of my family of this.

  21. wobblie
    Posted March 23, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Lynn, folks forget (or are not taught) that the first Russian Revolution was in 1905 and the Romanov’s(the White’s) won. Lot’s of Russians (especially Jew’s, what with the pogroms and all) immigrated after the failure of the revolution. I suspect your family was red, even if they were religious, the White’s stayed until thrown out in 1918. But like my daddy taught me, once here, we’re all Americans.

    Never could get along with being “white” after all the KKK was vehemently anti-immigrant and anti-catholic. Burned crosses in front of my Polish grandparents home in Indiana in the 30’s. Grandma lived with us when I was a child. It being March, I Remember us listening to, and rooting on West Texas when they played Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA basketball finals. A great victory for all us non-white folks.

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