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Peter Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data

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I think this story shows that the Facebook data mining is the tip of the iceberg. It will drag in Google and others.

As a start-up called Cambridge Analytica sought to harvest the Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans in summer 2014, the company received help from at least one employee at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley contractor to American spy agencies and the Pentagon.

It was a Palantir employee in London, working closely with the data scientists building Cambridge’s psychological profiling technology, who suggested the scientists create their own app — a mobile-phone-based personality quiz — to gain access to Facebook users’ friend networks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Cambridge ultimately took a similar approach. By early summer, the company found a university researcher to harvest data using a personality questionnaire and Facebook app. The researcher scraped private data from over 50 million Facebook users — and Cambridge Analytica went into business selling so-called psychometric profiles of American voters, setting itself on a collision course with regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Britain.

The revelations pulled Palantir — co-founded by the wealthy libertarian Peter Thiel — into the furor surrounding Cambridge, which improperly obtained Facebook data to build analytical tools it deployed on behalf of Donald J. Trump and other Republican candidates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a supporter of President Trump, serves on the board at Facebook.

The connections between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica were thrust into the spotlight by Mr. Wylie’s testimony on Tuesday. Both companies are linked to tech-driven billionaires who backed Mr. Trump’s campaign: Cambridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge fund magnate, while Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an initial investor in Facebook.

Google Link?

A former intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s executive chairman — urged the company to link up with Palantir, according to Mr. Wylie’s testimony and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt’s daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?” one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.

Ms. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica.

In an interview this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palantir employees were eager to learn more about using Facebook data and psychographics. Those discussions continued through spring 2014, according to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix visited Palantir’s London office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-security office, Mr. Wylie said, with separate rooms that could be entered only with particular codes. The other side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspirational quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge’s psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.

“I had left field idea,” Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. “What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?” Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, “could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.

One can only hope this will broaden the understanding of what “you are the product” means to free services peddled by big tech. Then again…..

Facebook needs to be regulated more tightly, or broken up so that no single entity controls all of its data

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The message was clear: The company just wanted negative stories to stop. It didn’t really care how the data was used.

Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you’re in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O.

The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data — except when negative press or regulators are involved. Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place.

For a few years, Facebook’s developer platform hosted a thriving ecosystem of popular social games. Remember the age of Farmville and Candy Crush? The premise was simple: Users agreed to give game developers access to their data in exchange for free use of addictive games.

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In one instance, a developer appeared to be using Facebook data to automatically generate profiles of children, without their consent. When I called the company responsible for the app, it claimed that Facebook’s policies on data use were not being violated, but we had no way to confirm whether that was true. Once data passed from the platform to a developer, Facebook had no view of the data or control over it. In other cases, developers asked for permission to get user data that their apps obviously didn’t need — such as a social game asking for all of your photos and messages. People rarely read permissions request forms carefully, so they often authorize access to sensitive information without realizing it.

At a company that was deeply concerned about protecting its users, this situation would have been met with a robust effort to cut off developers who were making questionable use of data. But when I was at Facebook, the typical reaction I recall looked like this: try to put any negative press coverage to bed as quickly as possible, with no sincere efforts to put safeguards in place or to identify and stop abusive developers. When I proposed a deeper audit of developers’ use of Facebook’s data, one executive asked me, “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?”

The message was clear: The company just wanted negative stories to stop. It didn’t really care how the data was used.

This makes for a dangerous mix: a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse. Facebook needs to be regulated more tightly, or broken up so that no single entity controls all of its data. The company won’t protect us by itself, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

Indeed. And users, including businesses, need to get serious about privacy and the damage the likes of facebook are doing and flee Facebook and their ilk in droves. Will this happen? I doubt it. As long as it is free they will come. As the increased popularity of Alexa, and other personal assistants that listen in shows, people are continuing to invite these modern forms of big brother into their private lives.

Kuwaiti Government will DNA Test Everyone

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There’s a new law that will enforce DNA testing for everyone: citizens, expatriates, and visitors. They promise that the program “does not include genealogical implications or affects personal freedoms and privacy.”

I assume that “visitors” includes tourists, so presumably the entry procedure at passport control will now include a cheek swab. And there is nothing preventing the Kuwaiti government from sharing that information with any other government.

Despicable