On the referendum 24I: new research on Facebook & ‘psychographic’ microtargeting

Summary: a short blog on a new paper casting doubt on claims re microtargeting using Facebook.

The audience for conspiracy theories about microtargeting, Facebook and Brexit is large and includes a big subset of SW1 and a wider group (but much smaller than it thinks it is) that wants a rematch against the public. The audience for facts, evidence and research about microtargeting, Facebook and Brexit is tiny. If you are part of this tiny audience…

I wrote a few days ago about good evidence on microtargeting in general and Cambridge Analytica’s claims on ‘psychographics’ in particular (see HERE).

Nutshell: the evidence and science re ‘microtargeting’ does not match the story you read in the media or the conspiracy theories about the referendum, and Vote Leave did not do microtargeting in any normal sense of the term.

Another interesting paper on this subject has been published a few days ago.

Background…

One of the most influential researchers cited by the media since Brexit/Trump is Michal Kosinski who wrote a widely cited 2015 paper on predicting Big 5 personality traits from Facebook ‘likes’: Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.

Duncan Watts, one of the leading scholars in computational sociology, pointed out:

‘All it shows is that algorithmic predictions of Big 5 traits are about as accurate as human predictions, which is to say only about 50 percent accurate. If all you had to do to change someone’s opinion was guess their openness or political attitude, then even really noisy predictions might be worrying at scale. But predicting attributes is much easier than persuading people.’

Kosinski published another paper recently: Psychological targeting as an effective approach to digital mass persuasion (November 2017). The core claim was:

‘In three field experiments that reached over 3.5 million individuals with psychologically tailored advertising, we find that matching the content of persuasive appeals to individuals’ psychological characteristics significantly altered their behavior as measured by clicks and purchases. Persuasive appeals that were matched to people’s extraversion or openness-to-experience level resulted in up to 40% more clicks and up to 50% more purchases than their mismatching or unpersonalized counterparts. Our findings suggest that the application of psychological targeting makes it possible to influence the behavior of large groups of people by tailoring persuasive appeals to the psychological needs of the target audiences.’

If this claim were true it would be a big deal in the advertising world. Further, Kosinski claimed that ‘The assumption is that the same effects can be observed in political messages.’ That would be an even bigger deal.

I was sceptical when I read the 2017 paper, mainly given the large amount of evidence in books like Hacking the Electorate that I touched on in the previous blog, but I didn’t have the time or expertise to investigate. I did read this Wired piece on that paper in which Watts commented:

‘Watts says that the 2017 paper didn’t convince him the technique could work, either. The results barely improve click-through rates, he says — a far cry from predicting political behavior. And more than that, Kosinski’s mistargeted openness ads — that is, the ads tailored for the opposite personality characteristic — far outperformed the targeted extraversion ads. Watts says that suggests other, uncontrolled factors are having unknown effects. “So again,” he says, “I would question how meaningful these effects are in practice.”‘

Another leading researcher, David Lazer, commented:

‘On the psychographic stuff, I haven’t see any science that really aligns with their [CA/Kosinski] claims.’

Another leading researcher, Alex Pentland at MIT (who also successfully won a DARPA project to solve a geolocation intelligence problem) was also sceptical:

‘Everybody talks about Google and Facebook, but the things that people say online are not nearly as predictive as, say, what your telephone company knows about you. Or your credit card company. Fortunately telephone companies, banks, things like that are very highly regulated companies. So we have a fair amount of time. It may never happen that the data gets loose.’

I’ve just been sent this paper (preprint link): Field studies of psychologically targeted ads face threats to internal validity (2018). It is an analysis of Kosinski’s 2017 experiments. It argues that the Kosinski experiment is NOT RANDOMISED and points out statistical and other flaws that undermine Kosinski’s claims:

‘The paper [Kosinski 2017] uses Facebook’s standard ad platform to compare how different versions of ads perform. However, this process does not create a randomized experiment: users are not randomly assigned to different ads, and individuals may even receive multiple ad types (e.g., both extroverted and introverted ads). Furthermore, ad platforms like Facebook optimize campaign performance by showing ads to users whom the platform expects are more likely to fulfill the campaign’s objective… This optimization generates differences in the set of users exposed to each ad type, so that differences in responses across ads do not by themselves indicate a causal effect.’ (Emphasis added.)

Kosinski et al reply here. They admit that the optimisation of Facebook’s ad algorithms could affect their results though they defend their work. (Campaigns face similar operational problems in figuring out ways to run experiments on Facebook without FB’s algorithms distorting them.)

I am not remotely competent to judge the conflicting claims and haven’t yet asked anybody who is though I have a (mostly worthless) hunch that the criticisms will stack up. I’ll add an update in the future when this is resolved.

Big claims require good evidence and good science — not what Feynman called ‘cargo cult science’ which accounts for a lot of social science research. Most claims you read about psychological manipulation are rubbish. There are interesting possibilities for applying advanced technology, as I wrote in my last blog, but a) almost everything you read about is not in this class and b) I am sceptical in general that ideas in published work on using Big 5 personality traits could add anything more than a very small boost to political campaigns at best and it can also easily blow up in your face, as Hersh’s evidence to the Senate shows. I strongly suspect that usually the ‘gains’ are less than the fees of the consultants flogging the snake oil — i.e a net loss for campaigns.

If you believe, like the Observer, that the US/UK military and/or intelligence services have access to technological methods of psychological manipulation that greatly exceed what is done commercially, you misunderstand their real capabilities. For example, look at how the commander of US classified special forces (JSOC), Stanley McChrystal, recruited civilians for his propaganda operations in Afghanistan because the military did not know what to do. The evidence since 9/11 is of general failure in the UK/USA viz propaganda / ‘information war’ / ‘hybrid war’ etc. Further, if you want expertise on things like Facebook and Google, the place to look is Silicon Valley, not the Pentagon. Look at how recent UK Prime Ministers have behaved. Look at how Cameron tweeted about rushing back from Chequers in the middle of the night to deal with ISIS beheadings. Look at how Blair, Brown and Cameron foolishly read out the names of people killed in the Commons. Of course it is impossible from the outside to know how much of this is because Downing Street mangles advice and operations and how much is failure elsewhere. I assume there are lots of good people in the system but, like elsewhere in modern Whitehall, expertise is suppressed by centralised hierarchies (as with Brexit).

On campaigns and in government, figuring out the answers to a few deep questions is much more important than practically anything you read about technology issues like microtargeting. But focus and priorities are very hard for big organisations including parties and governments, because they are mostly dominated by seniority, groupthink, signalling, distorted incentives and so on. A lack of focus means they spread intelligent effort too widely and don’t think enough about deep questions that overwhelmingly determine their fate.

Of course, it is possible to use technology to enhance campaigns and it is possible to devise messages that have game-changing effects but the media focus on microtargeting is almost completely misguided and the Select Committee’s inquiry into fake news has mostly spread fake news. There has been zero scrutiny, as far as I have seen, on the evidence from reputable scholars like Duncan Watts or Eitan Hersh on the facts and evidence about microtargeting and fake news in relation to Trump/Brexit. Sadly they are more interested in grandstanding than truth-seeking, which is why the Committee turned down my offer to arrange a time to give evidence and instead tried to grab headlines. I offered friendly cooperation, as the government should have done with Brexit, but the Committee went for empty threats, as per May and Hammond, and this approach will be as successful as this government’s negotiating strategy.

On the referendum #24H: Facebook, data science, technology, elections, and transparency

This blog has two short parts: A) a simple point about Wednesday’s committee hearing, B) some interesting evidence from a rare expert on the subject of data and campaigns, and a simple idea to improve regulation of elections. (And a PS. on hack Jane Merrick spreading more fake news.) There is a very short UPDATE re Facebook posted the next day, highlighted in BOLD below.

A. Re Wednesday’s Select Committee and Facebook letter

Correspondence from Facebook was published and used by the Committee to suggest that Vote Leave/AIQ have lied about when they started working together.

Henry de Zoete was introduced to AIQ on 31 March 2016. (This is all clear in emails that I think have been given to the Electoral Commission — if not they easily could be.)

AIQ did zero work for VL before then and, obviously, did not have access to VL’s Facebook page before we had even spoken to them.

If Facebook is saying that AIQ was running ads for VL in February 2016, then Facebook is wrong. [UPDATE: actually, if you read Facebook’s letter carefully, they correct their own error in a table where they use the timeframe for AIQ activity of “15 April – 23 June”. “15 April” of course fits with the date of VL’s introduction to AIQ I gave in this blog, and is the first day of the official campaign. The MPs either didn’t read the letter properly or chose to use the date which gave them a news story.]

VL was running stuff on FB in February as Facebook says. But this was done by us, NOT by AIQ.

Probably Facebook has looked at the VL FB page, seen activity in February, seen AIQ doing stuff shortly after and wrongly concluded that the earlier activity was also done by AIQ. It wasn’t and any further investigations will show this.

This isn’t actually important viz the legal claims and the EC investigation but I make the point in the interests of trying to clarify FACTS — so far the fake news inquiry has spread fake news around the world and clarified little. Also note how the Committee drops correspondence on the day of the hearing to maximise their chances of creating embarrassing moments for witnesses. This is the behaviour of people happy to see false memes spread, not the behaviour of truth-seeking MPs.

The Committee is now threatening me with ‘contempt of Parliament’. Their behaviour in seeking headlines rather than cooperating with witnesses over dates for evidence is  the sort of behaviour that has increased the contempt of the public for MPs over the last 20 years, which of course contributed to the referendum result. The Committee doesn’t understand Vote Leave. We had to deal with threats from MPs every day for a year, including from the PM/Chancellor and their henchmen who could actually back up serious threats. We ignored that. Why would you think we’re going to worry about EMPTY threats? If you think I care about ‘reputational damage’, you are badly advised.

B. Rare expertise on the subject of data and elections from Eitan Hersh to US Senate

Eitan Hersh wrote a book in 2015 called Hacking the Electorate. It’s pretty much the best book I’ve seen on the use of data science in US elections and what good evidence shows works and does not work.

As I wrote after the referendum, we tried hard in Vote Leave to base decisions on the best EVIDENCE for what works in campaigns and we spent time tracking down a wide variety of studies. Usually in politics everything is done on hunches. Inevitably, the world of ‘communications’ / PR / advertising / marketing is full of charlatans flogging snake oil. It is therefore very easy to do things and spend money just because it’s conventional. Because we were such a huge underdog we had to take some big gambles and we wanted to optimise the effectiveness of our core message as much as possible — if you know the science, you can focus more effectively. The constraints of time, money, and the appalling in-fighting meant we never pushed this nearly as far as I wanted but we tried hard.

For example, one of the few things about advertising which seems logical and has good evidence to support it is — try to get your message in front of people as close to the decision point as possible. That’s why we spent almost the whole campaign testing things (via polls, focus groups, online etc) then dropped most of our marketing budget in the last few days of the campaign. Similarly, Robert Cialdini wrote one of the few very good books on persuasion — Influence — and ideas from that informed how we wrote campaign materials. We were happy to take risks and look stupid. We came across a study where researchers had used as a control a leaflet with zero branding only to find, much to their surprise if I remember right, that it worked much better than all the other examples. We therefore experimented with leaflets stripped of all branding (‘The Facts’) which unleashed another wave of attacks from SW1 (‘worst thing I’ve seen in politics, amateur hour’ etc), but sure enough in focus groups people loved it (the IN campaign clearly found the same because they started copying this).

Of course, all sorts of decisions could not be helped by reliable evidence. But it is a much healthier process to KNOW when you’re taking a punt. Most political operations — and government — don’t try to be rigorous about decision-making or force themselves to think about what they know with what confidence. They are dominated by seniority, not evidence. Our focus on evidence was connected to creating a culture in which people could say to senior people ‘you’re wrong’. This is invaluable. I made many awful mistakes but was mostly saved from the consequences because we had a culture in which people could say ‘you’re wrong’ and fix them fast.

This is relevant to Hersh’s evidence and the conspiracy theories…

Hersh’s evidence should be read by everybody interested in the general issues of data and elections and the recent conspiracy theories in particular. I won’t go into these conspiracies again.

Here are some quotes…

‘Based on the information I have seen from public reports about Cambridge Analytica, it is my opinion that its targeting practices in 2016 ought not to be a major cause for concern in terms of unduly influencing the election outcome…

‘In every election, the news media exaggerate the technological feats of political campaigns…

‘The latest technology used by the winning campaign is often a good storyline, even if it’s false. Finally, campaign consultants have a business interest in appearing to offer a special product to future clients, and so they are often eager to embellish their role in quotes to the media…

‘I found that commercial data did not turn out to be very useful to campaigns. Even while campaigns touted the hundreds or thousands of data points they had on individuals, campaigns’ predictive models did not rely very much on these fields. Relative to information like  age, gender, race, and party affiliation, commercial measures of product preferences did not add very much explanatory power about Americans’ voting behavior…

‘Many commercial fields simply are not highly correlated with political dispositions. And even those that are might not provide added information to a campaign’s predictive models…

‘Nearly everything Mr. Nix articulates here [in a video describing CA’s methods] is not new. Based on what we know from past work,  it is also likely to have been ineffective. Cambridge Analytica’s definition of a persuadable voter is someone who is likely to vote but the campaign isn’t sure who they will vote for. This is a common campaign convention for defining persuadability. It also bears virtually no relationship to which voters are actually persuadable, undecided, or cross-pressured on issues, as I discuss in Hacking the Electorate… Cambridge Analytica’s strategy of contacting likely voters who are not surely supportive of one candidate over the other but who support gun rights and who are predicted to bear a particular personality trait is likely to give them very little traction in moving voters’ opinions. And indeed, I have seen no evidence presented by the firm or by anyone suggesting the firm’s strategies were effective at doing this 

‘As many journalists have observed, building a psychological profile by connecting Facebook “likes” to survey respondents who took a personality test would lead to inaccurate predictions. Facebook “likes” might be correlated with traits like openness and neuroticism, but the correlation is likely to be weak. The weak correlation means that the prediction will have lots of false positives…

‘In campaign targeting models I have studied, predictions of which voters are black or Hispanic are wrong about 25-30% of the time. Models of traits such as issue positions or personality traits are likely to be much less accurate. They are less accurate because they are less stable and because available information like demographic correlates and Facebook “likes” are probably only weakly related to them…

‘In a series of experiments, a colleague and I found that voters penalize candidates for mis-targeting such that any gains made through a successful target are often canceled out by losses attributable to mistargets… 

I am skeptical that Cambridge Analytica manipulated voters in a way that affected the election 

[Hersh then says ‘The skepticism I offer comes with a high degree of uncertainty’ and describes some of the gaps in what we know about such things. He also calls on Facebook to make its data available to researchers.]

‘News, both real and fake, is disseminated among users because it feels good to share. The kinds of news and content that often piques our interest appeals to our basest instincts; we are drawn to extremism, provocation, and outrage.’

Transparency — two simple ideas to improve things

In the last section Hersh discusses some broad points about transparency and social media. These things are important as I said after the referendum. Sadly, the focus on conspiracy theories has diverted the media and MPs away from serious issues.

I have zero legal responsibility for Vote Leave now — I ceased to be a director as part of our desperate rearguard action during the coup that kicked off on 25 January 2016. But I wouldn’t mind if Facebook wanted to take ALL of Vote Leave’s Facebook data that may be still sitting in ad manager etc — data normally considered very sensitive and never published by campaigns — and put the whole lot on its website available for download by anybody (excluding personal data so no individuals could be identified, which presumably would be illegal).

Why?

  1. In principle I agree with Hersh and think serious academic scrutiny would be good.
  2. In the interests of the VL team, it would prove what I have been saying and prove aspects of the conspiracy theories wrong. We never saw/used/wanted the data improperly acquired by CA. We did practically no ‘microtargeting’ in the normal sense of the term and zero using so-called ‘psychographics’ for exactly the reason described above — we tried to base decisions on good evidence and the good evidence from experts like Hersh was that it was not a good use of time and money. We focused on other things.

Here is another idea.

Why not have a central platform (managed by a much-reformed and updated Electoral Commission with serious powers) and oblige all permitted participants in elections to upload samples of all digital ads to this platform (say daily?) for public inspection by anybody who wants to look. After the election, further data on buy size, audience etc could be made automatically available alongside each sample. This would add only a tiny admin burden to a campaign but it would ensure that there is a full and accurate public record of digital campaigning.

Of course, this idea highlights an obvious point — there has never been any requirement on the parties to do this with paper documents. Part of the reason for the rage against Vote Leave in SW1 is that the referendum victory was something done to SW1 and the parties, not something done by them, hence partly their scrutiny of our methods. (This is also partly why the MPs are struggling so much to get to grips with the consequences.) There are no silver bullets but this simple measure would do some good and I cannot see a reasonable objection. Professional campaigners and marketers would hate this as they profit from a lack of transparency and flogging snake oil but their concerns should be ignored. Will the parties support such transparency for themselves in future elections?

One of the many opportunities of Brexit, as I’ve said before, comes in how we regulate such things. American law massively reflects the interests of powerful companies. EU law, including GDPR, is a legal and bureaucratic nightmare. The UK has, thanks to Brexit, a chance to regulate data better than either. This principle applies to many other fields, from CRISPR and genetic engineering to artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, which in the EU will be controlled by the ECJ interpreting the Charter of Fundamental Rights (and be bad for Europe’s economies and democracies). MPs could usefully consider these great opportunities instead of nodding along as officials do their best to get ministers to promise to maintain every awful set of EU rules until judgement day.

The issues of data-technology-elections is going to become more and more important fast. While the field is dominated by charlatans, it is clear that there is vast scope for non-charlatans to exploit technology and potentially do things far more effective, and potentially dangerous for democracy, than CA has claimed (wrongly) to do. Having spent some time in Silicon Valley since the referendum, it is obvious that it is/will be possible to have a decisive impact on a UK election using advanced technology. The limiting factors will be cash and a very small number of highly able people: i.e an operation to change an election could scale very effectively and stay hidden to a remarkable degree. The laws are a joke. MPs haven’t mastered the 70 year old technology of TV. How do you think they’d cope with people using tools like Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) — never mind what will be available within five years? The gaps in technical skill between commercial fields are extreme and getting wider as the west coast of America and coastal China suck in people with extreme skills. Old media companies already cannot compete with the likes of Google and the skill gaps  — and their consequences — grow every day.

But but but — technology alone will very rarely be the decisive factor: ‘people, ideas, and machines — in that order’, shouted Colonel Boyd at audiences, and this will remain true until/unless the machines get smarter than the people. The most important thing for campaigns (and governments) to get right is how they make decisions. If you do this right, you will exploit technology successfully. If you don’t — like the Tories in 2017 who created a campaign organisation violating every principle of effective action — no advantage in technology or cash will save you. And to get this right, you should study examples from the ancient world to modern projects like ARPA-PARC and Apollo (see here).

Anyway, I urge you to read Hersh’s evidence and ponder his warnings at the end, it will only take ~15 minutes. If interested, I also urge you to read some of the work by Rand Waltzman who ran a DARPA project on technology and social media. He has mostly been ignored in Washington as far as I can see but he should not be. He would be one of the most useful people in the world for MPs and hacks interested in these issues to speak to.

https://www.eitanhersh.com/uploads/7/9/7/5/7975685/hersh_written_testimony_senate_judiciary.pdf


PS. I’ve just been sent a blog on The Times website by Jane Merrick. It includes this regarding the latest odd news about a C4 drama:

‘Yet as with Mandelson, Cummings seems to complain about everything that is ever written about him, and so his reaction from his Twitter account — @odysseanproject (don’t ask) — was this: “What’s the betting this will be a Remain love-in and dire.” Oh how humbly he does brag!

I’ve had hacks email me asking me to ‘defend’ things on that Twitter account.

1. That is not my twitter account — it is a fake account. It’s interesting how many hacks complain about fake news while spreading it themselves. If you’re going to make claims about anonymous Twitter accounts (as she does elsewhere in her blog), try not to get confused by obvious parodies.

2. She also doesn’t mention that her husband, Toby Helm, was the SW1 equivalent of the guy in Scream chasing me and Henry de Zoete around Westminster for two years with a carving knife and a scream mask. The Observer promised the lobby I’d be marched out of the DfE in handcuffs. Nothing happened. Why? Because hate clouded their judgement, they botched the facts, and their claims were bullshit. Sound familiar?

[Update: The Times has cut that passage from the blog.]

On the referendum #24F: Another central claim of the Observer/Channel 4 conspiracy blows up

Yesterday I posted Facebook’s evidence showing that the central allegation of the Observer/Channel 4 conspiracy theory — that Vote Leave used the infamous data obtained by Cambridge Analytica — was provably false.

Today, the Spectator blows up other claims.

The most striking bit of ‘evidence’ the Observer produced recently was a video which they claimed showed the ‘destruction of evidence’ and a ‘coverup’. At the time I said that it did not show who or what the Observer claimed. (I won’t post it to avoid spreading fake news.)

The Spectator carries a statement from Vote Leave directors sent to the Electoral Commission proving that the Observer claims are entirely false:

‘This statement concerns a serious allegation against Ms Victoria Woodcock recently made by Shahmir Sanni et al, which we have reviewed urgently and needed to respond to more immediately, alleging what was variously described as data deletion on, or removal of access permissions from, Vote leave’s ‘BeLeave’ folder on March 17th 2017. We are now in a position to respond on this matter following a forensic review of Vote Leave’s Google Drive.

Ms Woodcock did not on that date access, delete, amend, or change permissions for any data or files on the BeLeave folder, as alleged by the so-called whistle-blowers and as is purported to be shown in the GIF published by The Observer. Allegations that claim she did are false and are based on misconceptions and misunderstandings of how Google Drive works.

‘Prior to March 17th 2017 Ms Woodcock was the Data Controller for Vote Leave and, in preparation for closedown, the majority of documents on its drive had been incorporated by her into a super-folder in her name. As a next step in the closedown process, it was decided that Ms Woodcock should hand over her responsibilities on March 17th 2017, and accordingly, on that date, her access to the Vote Leave Gdrive was removed. Later that day, continuing the closedown, at the direction of the Board and as a part of a standard data protection exercise, permissions were removed from folders across the Gdrive (of which the BeLeave folder was a part) for a group of high-level users (this group included, but was by no means merely, Ms Woodcock and the other two individuals shown in the GIF).

‘Ms Woodcock’s name appears as the user making the changes because she had been the super-administrator and data controller, so the “Victoria Woodcock” account was a convenient one to use, to achieve best visibility across the G Drive; the changes were in fact made by an authorised Vote Leave administrator, using her account, at a time when Ms Woodcock had had her access removed so would therefore not even have known that this activity was taking place. Independent IT consultants have verified that no BeLeave files were deleted from the folder. Permissions were removed, not by Victoria Woodcock; from folders across the drive, not just the BeLeave folder; and for a wider group than the three individuals shown in the Observer’s GIF.

‘These allegations against Ms Woodcock are therefore groundless.’ (Emphasis added)

In short, VW was removed from access to the drive before the video was taken, the video does NOT show her, it shows a different person to the Observer’s claim doing something completely different to the Observer’s claim, and nothing was deleted. (I was removed from access to this system long before 17 March 2017.)

Everything the Observer/C4 claimed about this GIF/video was wrong. No responsible media organisation should repeat the libellous allegations from Observer/C4. 

*

2 other interesting snippets re the EU today.

1/ The GDPR legislation is horrific. One of the many advantages of Brexit is we will soon be able to bin such idiotic laws. We will be able to navigate between America’s poor protection of privacy and the EU’s hostility to technology and entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter that this Government will sign up to a shockingly bad deal that purports to keep us in such stuff. The deal will be binned. With Brexit, it is the long-term that counts most — not what ministers like DD say and sign.

Hacks should ask around big companies for lunatic documents circulating to staff giving them directions on how to behave under GDPR to see what I mean. From baby photos to sickies, hacks will have a field day.

Also note that Whitehall is happy to spend huge amounts of time and effort passing GDPR and associated bullshit while stalling on preparations to make the UK a ‘third country’ under EU law and claiming to ministers that preparations to leave the EU are ‘illegal’ (and requiring they make written notices to Permanent Secretaries and other classic moves of the normal bureaucratic chess match). This Government is so comical that we will soon leave the EU without preparing to leave the EU AND we will not even prepare to leave the EU after we have already left because officials continue to argue such preparations are illegal 2019-2020 and DD has already conceded the argument. (Officials use various devices including our supposed obligations under A50.) If I had wanted to create a story to demonstrate my long-running claims about Whitehall, I could hardly have bettered this.

Whitehall spends much more time implementing new EU law than preparing to get out of EU law and almost all Ministers have so little grip of their departments, and have so little support from May (herself an avatar for Heywood and Robbins), that they meekly acquiesce. The Cabinet even now has never insisted on a single discussion with responsible officials over preparations — a dereliction of duty that will be seen by history as similar to the failure of the pre-World War I Cabinet to have discussions about UK military commitments to France.

2/ During the campaign VL warned that the ECJ would use the Charter of Fundamental Rights (NB. NOT the ECHR/HRA) to interfere with UK intelligence services and police. Cameron and Osborne claimed this was ‘lies’ even though it was perfectly obvious this would happen to anybody reading ECJ cases.

An example of what we warned about is HERE. Today’s judgment undermines the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 using the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Conservatives used to claim that these powers were vital for national security and fighting crime.

The ECJ will soon decide in the Privacy International on further aspects of the Five Eyes Agreement. During the campaign, Cameron, Osborne, Grieve and their collaborators claimed EU law would have no effect on the Five Eyes agreement. An example of the repeated dishonesty by Grieve on this subject is HERE. Grieve claimed that Gove’s statements during the referendum were wrong, ‘unfounded and indeed untenable’ and so on. It is Grieve’s claims on the Charter that are factually and legally wrong and ‘untenable’ in the light of the actual law and actual ECJ decisions. Grieve’s repeated bullshit on this issue should be called out by broadcast interviews. The treatment of him as an impartial expert is absurd. He is no expert and he is repeatedly dishonest on the subject.

Today’s judgment will be one of many if we remain ‘aligned’ to EU law and the Charter. Are MPs going to win the argument that we will leave the EU but leave the ECJ in charge of our response to terrorism? Not long-term. (And this is why we will win a referendum on the ECHR too.)

Of course, every single bit of advice that VL gave pre-referendum about what to do has been ignored by the Conservative government and MPs generally, from how to handle A50 to the need for investment in the NHS to this issue.

VL said that there should be ‘notwithstanding ECA1972’ legislation to remove the ECJ from any interference with the intelligence services, which would be strongly supported by Leave and Remain voters. Instead, the Government will accept this judgment and do nothing about it despite their previous promises. Ministers will, as usual, be easily bamboozled by officials waving ‘legal advice’ at them, just as Heywood bamboozled them into their catastrophic decisions on A50 by waving ‘legal advice’ at them.

This is just one small example of how extremely rubbish this government is and why it is vital that there are radical changes as soon as Brexit happens next March. This government, Parliament, and Whitehall generally are not remotely able to cope with the hard reboot of Brexit. Vote Leave warned them they could not do Brexit with the normal dysfunctional management processes of Whitehall. They ignored this advice and have collapsed into repeated and inescapable shambles.

Many in SW1 think that willpower can bounce them from the actual branch of reality we are on to a neighbouring branch of the multiverse where they can escape the referendum, just as many Brexit supporters think willpower can bounce them into a branch of the multiverse where we can escape all the disastrous effects of the May government. Both are wrong. ‘Reality cannot be fooled’ indefinitely. A hard rain is coming for SW1…

On the referendum #24E: Facebook proves central allegation in Observer/Channel 4 conspiracy theory is wrong

Facebook has provided evidence to Parliament and the ICO and Electoral Commission relevant to the recent stories about whistleblowers and the referendum.

It proves exactly what I have said about the Observer/C4 conspiracy theory that Vote Leave/I were secretly coordinating with Leave.EU/Cambridge Analytica and using the infamous Kogan/Cambridge Analytica data.

TIYDL refers to the infamous data collected by Kogan and given to Cambridge Analytica.

Use of TIYDL data – When an advertiser runs an ad campaign on Facebook one way they can target their ads is to use a list of email addresses (such as customers who signed up to their mailing list). AIQ used this method for many of their advertising campaigns during the Referendum. The data gathered through the TIYDL app did not include the email addresses of app installers or their friends. This means that AIQ could not have obtained these email addresses from the data TIYDL gathered from Facebook. AIQ must have obtained these email addresses for British voters targeted in these campaigns from a different source. We also conducted an analysis of the audiences targeted by AIQ in its Referendum-related ads, on the one hand, and UK user data potentially collected by TIYDL, on the other hand, and found very little overlap (fewer than 4% of people were common to both data sets, which is the same overlap we would find with random chance). This further suggests that the data from TIYDL was not used to build AIQ’s data sets in connection with the Referendum campaigns, although only AIQ has access to complete information about how it generated these data sets.’ [Emphasis added]

Note — this is not a statement about probabilities, it is certain: ‘AIQ could not have… AIQ must have…’ The emails used by AIQ for targeting ‘COULD NOT HAVE’ come from CA. This flatly contradicts Wylie.

Further, Facebook looked to see if there was evidence of targeting via a different route and found that the overlap with TIYDL data is ‘the same overlap we would find with random chance’. This flatly contradicts Wylie. 

The central claims of the Observer, Channel 4, Michael Crick, Jon Snow, Wylie, Shahmir et al used to support their overall conspiracy theory are factually wrong. As I said weeks ago, Wylie’s claims about VL’s use of data were obviously technically laughable. Other libellous claims by the Observer/C4 concerning the ‘destruction of evidence’ on the VL google drive will similarly be shown to be factually wrong, showing neither who or what the Observer/C4 claimed.  

Hopefully honest and professional media organisations will not repeat their conspiracy theories.

As I have said repeatedly, no reasonable person could think that the battle between Vote Leave/me and Leave.EU/Banks to control the official campaign really was a deep cover operation to hide our secret coordination over data.

There are serious issues concerning data, marketing and elections as I said before this conspiracy theory got going. It would be much better for the media to focus on these issues than persist Trump-like with claims that black = white.

Facebook evidence here

https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/culture-media-and-sport/Written-evidence-Facebook.pdf

 

On the referendum #24D: Walter Mitty, CA, and the Guardian/Observer’s own ‘personal data harvesting’

[Update: Re the Guardian/Observer doing what Cambridge Analytica did — i.e harvest personal data not just from person X who used their app but also from all their friends, just like the central allegation vs CA! — shouldn’t the Guardian/Observer have to inform all those they did this to a) that they did it, b) whether they still ‘hold’ all this data in the ICO’s definition, c) what use they are making now of this harvested data? And if they now believe such behaviour is evil, will they destroy all such data they gathered via their Facebook appThe Guardian/Observer probably holds considerably more personal data harvested via Facebook than Cambridge Analytica ever did… Wylie pointed out yesterday, rightly, the lack of powers for the ICO. If the Guardian/Observer just deleted all this dodgy data today, then as Wylie said we would be none the wiser. Presumably Carole will push internally for ‘full transparency’?

Further, and wouldn’t this be the irony of all ironies, the Guardian itself uses ‘behavioural targeting’ and shares this data with advertisers. Did they supply CA with any data?! It seems the Guardian/Observer never checked out what they are doing themselves before they unleashed this virus of a story…]

Screenshot 2018-03-28 13.02.57

Hugo is half right but not in the way he thinks…

The most obvious point about the whistleblower story is that the one thing Carole has undoubtedly done is provide good evidence for something Vote Leave knew in 2015: it would be lunacy for Vote Leave to ally with Arron Banks and Cambridge Analytica. Unfortunately for Carole, her global conspiracy depends on claiming that I was secretly coordinating everything with Banks all along which is one of the reasons the story has fizzled out. The lobby knows this is untenable.

Wylie made many allegations during his testimony to the DCMS committee. Most had nothing to do with Vote Leave so I won’t comment. Regarding Vote Leave/BeLeave, on issue after issue it’s the same story with the whistleblowers: on the BeLeave bank account, expenses, who set up what when, the ‘shared drive’ (which I think they have lied to the Observer and its lawyers about) and so on — their stories change and they will be shown to be either mistaken or lying. The Electoral Commission gave us written permission to donate to BeLeave — this is a fact supported by documents presented in High Court though the media keeps writing I ‘claim’ this. VL staff and Darren Grimes behaved reasonably in trying to strike the right balance between cooperating in certain ways, which we were legally allowed and obliged to do, and ‘coordinating’ in the legal sense, which is very opaque but which we continue to believe we did not do (see long blog for details).

I will explore one of Wylie’s central claims about data that goes to the heart of the VL angle of this story. The issues around Facebook, data, targeting etc are partly quite technical. If they are to investigate such issues properly then the MPs need expert support or they are wide open to charlatans. I am very far from an expert but I’ll try to explain why one of Wylie’s central claims should not be believed.

As reported by the BBC:

‘[Wylie] said he was sure Aggregate IQ had drawn on Cambridge Analytica databases during the referendum, saying it “baffled” him how a firm in the UK for only a couple of months had “created a massive targeting operation” without access to data.’

His claim was that Vote Leave must have used the Cambridge Analytica data, passed through AIQ, to win the referendum. Wylie, describing the alleged links between Cambridge Analytica, AIQ and the specific dataset said:

“You can’t do online targeting if you don’t have access to the database. You just can’t” [11:49:50]

There are two very clear problems with this story.

  1. The Facebook data is on US voters so would have been useless in the referendum.
  2. Far from being impossible it is actually incredibly easy to set up totally legitimate/lawful targeting on Facebook without any electoral data as the Guardian/Observer knows because it does it itself and runs ‘masterclasses’ teaching people how to do it.

And, amusingly, it turns out that the Guardian/Observer itself was ‘harvesting personal data’ via its own Facebook app! Did Carole know and when did she know it?!

Problem 1: The FB data was on US voters

During his testimony, and the extensive reporting on the subject, it has been very clear that the Facebook data was specific to US voters.

As Paul-Olivier Dehaye said in the Committee meeting with Wylie, describing the dataset:

“A few hundred plus millions of Americans’ whose data is being processed by this company” [13:26:50]

Or as the Guardian itself reports:

“harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters”

However, data on US voters was irrelevant to the referendum and obviously wasn’t used. And Wylie accidentally undermined his own claim. When under pressure on his own possible illegal use of the FB data, Wyle suddenly blurted out the truth:

“No, because I didn’t have any UK data, I couldn’t physically offer” [to use the Cambridge Analytica dataset for Vote Leave] [13:44:50]

Which is true. There was no UK dataset and the US dataset was never used by Vote Leave or any other party in the referendum. Any responsible journalist should stop claiming anything to the contrary.

Problem 2: It’s extremely easy to set up completely legitimate targeting on Facebook

Wylie claims that:

“it “baffled” him how a firm in the UK for only a couple of months had “created a massive targeting operation” without access to data.” [BBC]

Or in an extended quote from Wylie:

“Strongly encourage looking at this question of where did they get the data? When I met with Dom Cummings, in Nov 2015, one of the things that was apparent is that Vote Leave at the time actually didn’t have any data. That’s in November 2015. Dom Cummings, in part, wanted to meet with me because he was really interested in Cambridge Analytica. He wanted to create the quote-unquote Palantir for politics. But it become apparent that if you don’t even have the electoral register, let alone a social database, you can’t really do this, or you can’t do it legally.” [11:21:50 to 11:24:00]

However, almost any company that does any online marketing could easily explain to the committee how easy it is to do completely legitimate targeting. In fact, the Guardian itself can train them how to do this in its own masterclass on social media and digital targeting!

Pic: Guardian masterclass in online marketing

Screenshot 2018-03-28 14.07.03

It is total rubbish to suggest that this is difficult for a political campaign, let alone impossible. It can be done, start to finish, in less than an hour by someone who knows what they are doing. When I go and give evidence to the DCMS, which sadly will have to await multiple legal actions, I could demo why they were lied to by getting someone to start from scratch on a laptop at the start of the session and shouting ‘finished’ when the DCMS is running its own targeted Facebook ad campaign with zero use of electoral data. 

What actually happened

As has been discussed publicly, what actually happened is relatively simple. Through a combination of focus groups and polling, we were aware that the people we wanted to reach were in particular demographic categories, basically ‘between 35-55, outside London and Scotland, excluding UKIP supporters and associated characteristics, and some other criteria’. We created ads, mainly focussed on the NHS, that AIQ put onto Facebook. These were targeted at this very broad segment of society, completely legitimately and with no use of American voter data (obviously!) to reach about 20% the voting population of the UK. Our use of so-called micro-targeting was minimal. Further, we made ZERO use of so-called ‘psychographic’ marketing because our campaign was informed by looking at what serious science suggests works and Big5/OCEAN profiling for politics is very marginal (and expensive) at best.

Our best tools were not super-sophisticated digital targeting — the supposed Jedi mind-bending superpowers that Carole thinks we have — but 1) learning from books thousands of years old about how to manage complex operations and 2) listening hard to the public rather than the pundits.

Conclusion

We have two competing claims.

From Chris Wylie, that it is almost impossible for Vote Leave to have done targeting without access to the Cambridge Analytica dataset.

From Vote Leave, a claim that this is not only possible, it is trivially simple.

If you want to decide between these two, we suggest that you sign up to the Guardian/Observer masterclass on targeting and see for yourself!

There is an amusing kicker. The Guardian/Observer themselves run targeted ads on Facebook.

Pic: The Guardian/Observer targeted Facebook ads

Screenshot 2018-03-28 14.21.08

As previously discussed, Chris Wylie comments that “You can’t do online targeting if you don’t have access to the database. You just can’t”. He also states on the record that he had access to the complete Cambridge Analytica data, and gives no concrete evidence he deleted it. While this data was useless for Vote Leave, who didn’t operate in the US, it would be useful for the Guardian, who do operate there. If you believe Wylie’s testimony, one might conclude that the only way the Guardian could be doing online targeting is through access to Wylie’s version of the Cambridge Analytica dataset!

Of course, I don’t believe this. I believe that the Guardian, just like almost every other company doing digital advertising, and just like Vote Leave, is operating completely within the law. But to spare itself further embarrassment over its Walter Mitty whistleblower, the Guardian should admit that it’s possible to do targeting without access to the Cambridge Analytica dataset, just as they do. And of course this directly conflicts with one of the many bullshit claims by Wylie about the Cambridge Analytica story.

Could I have an answer on the record, please Carole?

Further, in another amusing irony, check out the Guardian/Observer’s own iterating privacy policy — or should we say, ‘anti-privacy policy’?! — on its Facebook app. Yup, they were themselves doing just what they are claiming (falsely) Vote Leave exploited and what they say is destroying democracy — harvesting personal data via their app! Nice work Carole, but please remember — Vote Leave never stooped so low!

Screenshot 2018-03-28 14.24.51

Finally, in another extreme irony alert… Fair Vote, the vehicle for Blair and Osborne to attack Vote Leave and campaign for a second referendum (funded by??) is … wait for it, chasing people around the internet recruiting supporters USING TARGETED ADS!

Screenshot 2018-03-28 14.39.35.png

Dear Observer, Channel 4, Fair Vote, you are an absolute bunch of charlatans — start getting ready for Brexit, your weak Zoolander story is going nowhere.

For the avoidance of any doubt, as I have said many times for over a year…

  • VL did not work with Cambridge Analytica directly or indirectly.
  • We never had, or sought access to, the FB data in question.
  • Microtargeting is an important issue but played practically no part in the VL campaign.

Ps. Also it’s not my job to protect Facebook but hacks keep circulating a video of Zuckerberg saying to the BBC that he would not ‘sell people’s data’, with comments to the effect that ‘what a liar Zuck is’ etc. Practically nobody seems to realise that Facebook did not sell that data! Facebook consistently put user experience ahead of revenue (hence partly why it has flourished while competitors blew up) and its business model does not involve selling personal data as per this clip.

As I suggested a year ago newspapers need to hire specialists who actually understand these issues to advise its political reporters/pundits. There are real issues about data/elections/platforms but pundits make sensible debate harder when they accuse campaigns and Facebook of things they never did. Stick to the facts guys, that’s tricky enough to deal with…

If you want to read someone who actually understands this story ignore people like Hugo Rifkind and read this.

Another excellent piece, one of the best I’ve read on CA snake oil.

Some links

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43558876

https://www.theguardian.com/guardian-masterclasses/2017/feb/15/how-to-develop-a-social-media-strategy-for-your-retail-business-digital-course

https://www.theguardian.com/guardian-masterclasses/2015/jul/03/advanced-social-media-for-businesses

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election

https://dominiccummings.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/20170130-referendum-22-numbers.pdf

https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/28e9cccd-face-47c4-92b3-7f2626cd818e

LA Times piece with lots of comments from various people about why CA is snake oil.

On the referendum #24C: Whistleblowers and C4/Observer accusations — they promised Watergate and delivered Zoolander

Update: More unethical behaviour from @Jolyonmaugham

I wrote yesterday about a formal complaint to the Bar Standards Board regarding this ‘QC’ (scroll down).

Today he tweets:

Screenshot 2018-03-28 12.17.09

Yet again this charlatan spreads bullshit on the internet about serious issues that are the subject of legal investigations without doing the most basic fact checking. If he had, he would have seen immediately that Michael Gove was never on the Board of Vote Leave. That’s a ‘fact’ Jolyon. (Further neither Gove nor Boris had anything to do with such matters as legal compliance.) The decision re a donation to BeLeave was taken by the Vote Leave Finance Committee (a subset of the Board) after we suddenly got the written confirmation from the EC that we could donate to BeLeave — another fact, supported by documents presented in the High Court, which @Jolyon spread false memes about. Full documentation exists for the EC to consider. Journalists should treat him not as a serious QC but as another spin doctor for a political campaign since that’s how he behaves on social media.

UPDATE 27/3. DEATH TO SPIES!

This tweet from Carole sums up how serious this story really is in so far as it relates to Vote Leave: of course, SMERSH (Russian abbreviation for ‘death to spies’)! The EC/ICO inquiries will look at the facts, the completely different stories that the whistleblowers tell each time they appear (their credibility is such that I bet their lawyers won’t let them appear as witnesses), the evidence, and the law. By the time the inquiries are over, the Observer will look really silly for making a hero out of a fantasist-charlatan, we’ll already have left the EU, and Zoolander will need a new look… The one thing Carole has provided good evidence for is something Vote Leave already knew in 2015: it would be lunacy for Vote Leave to ally with Arron Banks and Cambridge Analytica!

Screenshot 2018-03-27 11.15.52

Screenshot 2018-03-27 11.22.35

tumblr_mq5ntep7it1ssxknqo1_500

UPDATE 26/3. It’s been suggested to me that I should put in a formal complaint about the lawyer @JolyonMaugham to the Bar Standards Board. His twitter feed alone is a disgrace to the bar. He has been guilty of at least reckless falsehood. Strikes me this would be a good public service so feel free to send evidence about him to my public email and I’ll send in a formal document with help from some barristers. Public debate is badly undermined when QCs spread bullshit on the internet.

And on this subject, it was noticeable that in the hearing over a judicial review on the Electoral Commission recently all three teams were criticised by the Court: Jolyon’s, the EC’s, and VL’s. The JR won’t effect Brexit at all but it will affect future conduct in elections and the debate about reform. As I wrote in my long piece on the referendum a year ago the rules about our elections are a joke and regulators are in an impossible position (e.g the latest flap over what counts as ‘coordination’). It would be in the public interest if all three teams upgrade their lawyers for the JR in the summer so these arguments are properly made and contribute to serious reform of the whole system. (I have zero role with VL and have not been a director since early 2016 so these decisions have nothing to do with me.) 

NB. I respect @JolyonMaugham’s right to free speech and to express his political views on Twitter. Please only send examples of things that can genuinely and reasonably be seen as misconduct for a barrister such as misleading people or deliberately mistating the law. I have no interest in his politics, just his integrity and professionalism. There will be a very strict test applied by my team about what we say. Just the facts please…

[Added.] In particular, I am unaware of any document presenting clear and full transparency concerning the finances of his Good Law Project and how much he collects for his own ‘fees’. Do those who donate think he is working for free? Is he? If not how much does he take? Does he make it public? If not why not? Is his behaviour concerning raising and spending this money ethical?

A team will also be putting in formal complaints to the EC and ICO about the illegal conduct of the Remain campaign, Osborne, Blair, Cameron, Mandelson, Clegg, Craig Dre et al. Don’t start deleting emails guys, cos that would be illegal, but start saving for lawyers. Meanwhile, we will also be starting our own campaign for a second referendum — on the ECHR…


UPDATE 24/3: My response to Channel4/Observer/NYT ‘world exclusive’: They promised Watergate and delivered a dodgy Zoolander. Vote Leave’s donations were legal, the Electoral Commission gave us written permission, the whistleblowers are provably lying, we leave in a year and this lame gossip won’t even be a historical footnote.


Here is the Channel 4 / Observer ‘exclusive’ about to air this evening, leaked to me by an ‘appalled’ journalist in the C4 newsroom…

Their whistleblowers are already discredited as liars and charlatans. Wylie tried to sell me the same crap he accuses Cambridge Analytica of doing — and I told him to get lost (in writing). Shahmir told a completely different story to a previous investigation, which evidence will be with the Electoral Commission.

Accusations from the dishonest @Jolyon that Vote Leave did not have permission from the EC to give donations to other campaigns were disproved in open court just days ago when the documents were revealed, and @Jolyon was criticised by the court for his conduct.

C4 and Observer think this will help cancel the referendum.

They are deluded.

SW1 will have one of its frequent hysterical waves, soon replaced by the next such wave.

We’re leaving the EU next March.

Then we’ll be coming for the ECHR referendum and we’ll win that by more than 52-48…

For the details of why their accusations should not be believed, SEE HERE.

There won’t be a Scooby Doo ending to this story where my mask is pulled off and it turns out Arron and I were working with Cambridge Analytica all along, and the cops say ‘they’d have got away with leaving the EU if it weren’t for that journalist Carole’.

(We wish all whistleblowers well.)

CHANNEL 4 news release

BREXIT CAMPAIGN WAS ‘TOTALLY ILLEGAL’, CLAIMS WHISTLE-BLOWER

‘Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks’ – Part 4 

Please credit words and pictures to Channel 4 News

Tonight, the whistle-blower who was “outed” as gay by the PM’s political secretary in a row over cheating claims in the Brexit campaign, tells Channel 4 News that “people have been lied to” and that the EU Referendum “wasn’t legitimate.”

In an interview with Channel 4 News to be broadcast tonight (Saturday at 6.30pm GMT), Shahmir Sanni tells Michael Crick: “I know that, that Vote Leave cheated… I know that, that people have been lied to and that the Referendum wasn’t legitimate.

“Leaving the European Union, I agree with. But I don’t agree with losing what it means to be British in that process; losing what it means to follow the rules; losing what it means to be quite literally a functioning democracy.”

Sanni believes Theresa May’s political secretary Stephen Parkinson “outed” him yesterday after he was set to reveal claims of cheating by Brexiteers. Parkinson says the two had been in a relationship for 18-months, which he then implies may explains Sanni’s motive for speaking out.

Channel 4 News can also reveal that Sanni went to the Electoral Commission with two other pro-Brexit friends on Thursday, who say they helped the Vote Leave campaign two years ago.

They told the Commission in detail why they think Vote Leave broke the law during the Referendum, and exceeded the legal spending limits.

Earlier last week their lawyers gave the Commission signed statements from the three whistle-blowers. Channel 4 News has seen a duplicate of the 46-page account prepared by two top QCs, and three thick ring-binders of supporting documents.

The cheating row centres around the links between Vote Leave and third-party campaign group Beleave.

Under election laws, Vote Leave was only allowed to spend £7m on its campaign. But there were scores of other separate campaign groups who could each spend up to £700,000, if they registered as permitted participants.

However, spending by each of these groups had to remain truly independent of the main designated campaigns.

Sanni tells Channel 4 News he was initially a Vote Leave outreach volunteer. But it’s claimed Stephen Parkinson then assigned him to another Brexit group called BeLeave, where he worked with the group’s founder, Darren Grimes.

BeLeave was based inside the Vote Leave headquarters and Grimes was photographed holding a Vote Leave poster on the day of the Referendum.

Sanni says that he and Grimes always reported to Stephen Parkinson.

“There was no time where anything BeLeave did didn’t go through Stephen,” Sanni said. “Any sort of article that I posted or an article that I wrote, I would run it through Stephen. I would say ‘is this OK?’.”

“This was after we had become a separate organisation – I sent Stephen a draft of my speech, and said ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I sought advice, as did Darren.”

Together, they claim they worked hand in glove with Parkinson.

In the last ten days of the campaign, Vote Leave donated a total of £625,000 to Grimes, who was registered as a permitted participant. The donations went directly to Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ).

Sanni claims that Grimes was not truly independent of Vote Leave and was not in control of how the money was spent.

He claims Grimes and BeLeave were used by Vote Leave to get around limits on how much they could legally spend. If true, they could have overspent by almost ten per cent.

Documents seen by Channel 4 News show multiple links between AIQ and Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL.

Speaking about the donation, Sanni said: “When Darren told me that it was almost £700,000, the first thing I asked was ‘OK, so can I get my, you know, some of my travel expenses refunded, reimbursed?’,” he told Channel 4 News. “I didn’t have a job, I had just come out of graduation and I was volunteering.

“So I asked for money and Darren said ‘No I don’t think we can… the only way for them to give it to us is if they give it to AIQ.’ And that’s where at first I was like oh that’s a bit odd…”

Asked whether they could have refused to spend the money on AIQ, Sanni said: “We didn’t ever feel like we had that level of control. That’s what I mean, we never felt like we had control over the or, over the organisation itself…

“We were delegated responsibilities … but in terms of sort of money, we never had a say over that. We never had control over that.”

He claimed: “In effect they used BeLeave to over-spend, and not just by a small amount… Almost two thirds of a million pounds makes all the difference and it wasn’t legal… ”

“They say that it wasn’t coordinated, but it was. And so the idea that… the campaign was legitimate is false.”

Tonight, Stephen Parkinson issued a “personal statement” to Channel 4 News:

“I have seen the statements issued by Shahmir and his lawyers, and am saddened by them. They are factually incorrect and misleading. My statement to Channel 4 News and The Observer was issued in my personal capacity and was solely a response to the serious and untrue allegations made against me by Shahmir, Chris Wylie, and others.

“It would be surprising if Shahmir, Mr Wylie, or those advising them thought I would be able to defend myself against those allegations without revealing my relationship with Shahmir. Sadly, the allegations they have chosen to make are so serious that I have been compelled to do so. I cannot see how our relationship, which was ongoing at the time of the referendum and which is a material fact in the allegations being made, could have remained private once Shahmir decided to publicise his false claims in this way.

“The matters raised in tonight’s Channel 4 News programme are already with the Electoral Commission.

“At the relevant time during the referendum period, the Commission advised Vote Leave that it was permissible to make a donation in the way it proposed to do to BeLeave.

“Twice since the referendum the Commission has investigated this matter, and twice it has found no evidence of wrongdoing. A third investigation into the same issue is currently taking place.

“The Electoral Commission has not contacted me in relation to any of these inquiries, but I will of course be happy to assist in them if they wish me to do so.

“I firmly deny the allegations in the programme. I had no responsibility for digital campaigning or donations on the Vote Leave campaign, and am confident that I stayed within the law and strict spending rules at all times.”

A solicitor for Vote Leave said: “Vote Leave has twice been cleared on this matter by the Electoral Commission. There are a number of new accusations and allegations being made in what you have sent us. While many of them seem irrelevant or trivial, some are serious and potentially damaging to the reputations of those caught up in those allegations. As has been the case throughout, Vote Leave is obligated to review – to the extent it can after this long elapsed period since the referendum – all such allegations, and is doing so. We will as appropriate share any relevant findings with the Electoral Commission, again as we have always done. “

Darren Grimes denies all the allegations.

Lawyers for AggregateIQ said: “AggregateIQ is a digital advertising, web and software development company based in Canada. It is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated. AggregateIQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica. AggregateIQ works in full compliance within all legal and regulatory requirements in all jurisdictions where it operates. It has never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity.

‘All work AggregateIQ does for each client is kept separate. The services carried out by AggregateIQ for Vote Leave were in accordance with the instructions of Vote Leave. The services carried out for BeLeave were in accordance with the instructions of BeLeave. The accounts were kept separate at all times and there was no overlap or merging in any way.’

Note to editors:

For websites, clips are available to be EMBEDDED FROM @CHANNEL4NEWS TWITTER ACCOUNT ONLY – from 6pm.

For broadcasters, can be provided with two clips – with full credit to Channel 4 News.

For clips please contact: ITNP news desk +44 207 430 4668 News@itnproduction.com

On the referendum #24B: Whistleblowers, ‘outing’, the ECHR

Below is a section of yesterday’s blog that has been changed and changed again in odd circumstances. It will be convenient to put it into a separate blog so people can follow easier…

EDITED SECTION OF YESTERDAY BLOG…

I didn’t know anything about the personal relationships between Wylie/Shahmir/SP until a few days ago but here is Stephen Parkinson’s (SP) statement:

‘I was not introduced to Shahmir Sanni or Darren Grimes by Chris Wylie as he is claiming, but by a mutual friend from university. Shahmir became an occasional volunteer for Vote Leave and other leave campaigns, and we began a personal relationship. We subsequently dated for 18 months, splitting up – I thought amicably – in September 2017. That is the capacity in which I gave Shahmir advice and encouragement, and I can understand if the lines became blurred for him, but I am clear that I did not direct the activities of any separate campaign groups. I had no responsibility for digital campaigning or donations during the referendum, and am confident that Vote Leave acted entirely within the law and strict spending rules at all times.’


[Added the next day… The statement above was originally on this blog yesterday. Then I got requests on behalf of Shahmir to remove it on the grounds that relatives in Pakistan might get killed. Then Shahmir put out his own statement admitting the relationship and attacking Parkinson for ‘outing’ him. So I have restored the statement above and left the below here, so people can see the weird context. 1) Given the nature of Shahmir’s accusations against the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary, no reasonable person would have thought Parkinson could explain all this to the PM and media while hiding the fact of their relationship. 2) Shahmir’s behaviour is not consistent with someone prioritising relatives ‘at serious risk’ in Pakistan, to say the least. 3) Shahmir is unquestionably telling lies about BeLeave — either he was lying to VL’s board member in charge of compliance, who has detailed written notes taken after talking to Shahmir in 2016 about the independence of BeLeave (when Shahmir said it was all ethical and legal), or he is lying now. There’s no third alternative. Given all the other evidence about this, a reasonable person will conclude he’s probably lying now. Maybe it’s connected to his relationship (used in a general sense) with Wylie, maybe not. 4) Wylie literally has described himself as ‘a smear merchant’. Are the media going to report seriously allegations from someone like this? 5) An interesting side issue is that the legal point Shahmir’s lawyers used to try to gag the media yesterday is an ECHR point. It is absurd in principle and this case is a good example of why: person X makes accusations publicly about person Y then gets lawyers to tell Y ‘you can’t answer these accusations in a way that reveals anything about my sex life even if it’s directly relevant to the accusations’. The ECHR creates these legal problems all the time. The media should have had more courage to defend the public interest yesterday and ignored this argument. If I get involved in politics again, then a referendum on the ECHR should be high on the agenda — and bear in mind most people probably think we’re already leaving it because of the 2016 referendum, so imagine how mad they’ll be when they realise we’re still in it.]

[XXX NB. I have removed this statement. I have been sent a letter apparently from lawyers saying people might get killed as a consequence and asking me to remove it for their safety. Despite this being entirely the Observer’s/C4’s fault, I obviously won’t take any risk that people are physically attacked. I will take steps to discover if Bindmans are acting in good faith, whom for, and so on. If I think communications from Bindmans or subsequent coverage by CC/C4 reveal a lack of good faith, and seek to use my removal of this statement to claim, in any way shape or form that I have admitted fault/liability etc about anything, or make dishonest claims about the relationships of specific people because they think they can keep certain details secret using legal threats, then I will put it back up immediately as they will have revealed they were lying about physical dangers for political advantage. It is in your hands, CC/C4 and whistleblowers — I’m cutting you a break you don’t deserve. Journalists please note that I’m unclear what is happening and I’m just assuming this email is genuine given the scale of the issue. Also NB. the legal issue at stake concerns an aspect of the ECHR — and this reminds me that another project we need to get going is a referendum on that, much easier to win than the EU, we’ll win 65-35…]