On the referendum #24J: Collins, grandstanding, empty threats & the plan for a rematch against the public

The DCMS Select Committee has just sent me the following letter.

Screenshot 2018-05-24 13.51.14

Here is my official reply…

Dear Damian et al

As you know I agreed to give evidence.

In April, I told you I could not do the date you suggested. On 12 April I suggested July.

You ignored this for weeks.

On 3 May you asked again if I could do a date I’d already said I could not do.

I replied that, as I’d told you weeks earlier, I could not.

You then threatened me with a Summons.

On 10 May, Collins wrote:

Dear Dominic

We have offered you different dates, and as I said previously we are not prepared to wait until July for you to give evidence to the committee. We have also discussed this with the Electoral Commission who have no objection to you giving evidence to us.

We are asking you to give evidence to the committee following evidence we have received that relates to the work of Vote Leave. We have extended a similar invitiation to Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, to respond to evidence we have received about Leave.EU, and they have both agreed to attend.

The committee will be sending you a summons to appear and I hope that you are able to respond positively to this

best wishes

I replied:

The EC has NOT told me this.

Sending a summons is the behaviour of people looking for PR, not people looking to get to the bottom of this affair.

A summons will have ZERO positive impact on my decision and is likely only to mean I withdraw my offer of friendly cooperation, given you will have shown greater interest in grandstanding than truth-seeking, which is one of the curses of the committee system.

I hope you reconsider and put truth-seeking first.

Best wishes

d

You replied starting this charade.

 

You talk of ‘contempt of Parliament’.

You seem unaware that most of the country feels contempt for Parliament and this contempt is growing.

  • You have failed miserably over Brexit. You have not even bothered to educate yourselves on the basics of ‘what the Single Market is’, as Ivan Rogers explained in detail yesterday.
  • We want £350 million a week for the NHS plus long-term consistent funding and learning from the best systems in the world and instead you funnel our money to appalling companies like the parasites that dominate defence procurement.
  • We want action on unskilled immigration and you give us bullshit promises of ‘tens of thousands’ that you don’t even believe yourselves plus, literally, free movement for murderers, then you wonder why we don’t trust you.
  • We want a country MORE friendly to scientists and people from around the world with skills to offer and you give us ignorant persecution that is making our country a bad joke.
  • We want you to take money away from corporate looters (who fund your party) and fund science research so we can ‘create the future’, and you give us Carillion and joke aircraft carriers.
  • We want to open government to the best people and ideas in the world and you keep it a closed dysfunctional shambles that steals our money and keeps power locked within two useless parties and a closed bureaucracy that excludes ~100% of the most talented people. We want real expertise and you don’t even think about what that means.
  • You spend your time on this sort of grandstanding instead of serving millions of people less fortunate than you and who rely on you.

If you had wanted my evidence you would have cooperated over dates.

You actually wanted to issue threats, watch me give in, then get higher audiences for your grandstanding.

I’m calling your bluff. Your threats are as empty as those from May/Hammond/DD to the EU. Say what you like, I will not come to your committee regardless of how many letters you send or whether you send characters in fancy dress to hand me papers.

If another Committee behaves reasonably and I can give evidence without compromising various legal actions then I will consider it. Once these legal actions have finished, presumably this year, it will be easy to arrange if someone else wants to do it.

Further, I’m told many of your committee support the Adonis/Mandelson/Campbell/Grieve/Goldman Sachs/FT/CBI campaign for a rematch against the country.

Do you know what Vote Leave 2 would feel like for the MPs who vote for that (and donors who fund it)?

It would feel like having Lawrence Taylor chasing you and smashing you into the ground over and over and over again.

Vote Leave 2 would not involve me — nobody will make that mistake again — but I know what it would feel like for every MP who votes for a rematch against the public.

Lawrence Taylor: relentless 

So far you guys have botched things on an epic scale but it’s hard to break into the Westminster system — you rig the rules to stop competition. Vote Leave 1 needed Cameron’s help to hack the system. If you guys want to run with Adonis and create another wave, be careful what you wish for. ‘Unda fert nec regitur’ and VL2 would ride that wave right at the gates of Westminster.

A second referendum would be bad for the country and I hope it doesn’t happen but if you force the issue, then Vote Leave 2 would try to create out of the smoking wreck in SW1 something that can deliver what the public wants. Imagine Amazon-style obsession on customer satisfaction (not competitor and media obsession which is what you guys know) with Silicon Valley technology/scaling and Mueller-style ‘systems politics’ combined with the wave upon wave of emotion you will have created. Here’s some free political advice: when someone’s inside your OODA loop, it feels to them like you are working for them. If you go for a rematch, then this is what you will be doing for people like me. 350m would just be the starter.

‘Mixed emotions, Buddy, like Larry Wildman going off a cliff — in my new Maserati.’

I will happily discuss this with your colleagues on a different committee if they are interested, after the legal issues are finished…

 

Best wishes

Dominic

Ps. If you’re running an inquiry on fake news, it would be better to stop spreading fake news yourselves and to correct your errors when made aware of them. If you’re running an inquiry on issues entangled with technologies, it would be better to provide yourself with technological expertise so you avoid spreading false memes. E.g your recent letter to Facebook asked them to explain to you the operational decision-making of Vote Leave. This is a meaningless question which it is impossible for Facebook to answer and could only be asked by people who do not understand the technology they are investigating.

On the referendum #25: a letter to Tory MPs & donors on the Brexit shambles

[NB. As has become usual, whenever I write something critical about an aspect of Brexit, Remain-supporting media like the FT/Economist/Guardian etc portray this dishonestly as a general statement about Brexit. So for example, below I say that the Government ‘irretrievably botched’ the process of preparing to be a ‘third country’ under EU law in line with official policy. This has been widely quoted as ‘Brexit is irretrievably botched’. This is not at all my view as I have said many times. The referendum was explicitly presented to the country by Parliament as a ‘choice for a generation’. Whether Brexit is a success will not be determined by the ‘deal’. The deal is now sure to be much worse than it could have been. This means we will start off outside the EU in a state worse than we might have done. But whether we make the most of things over a 10/20/30 year timescale is a completely different question and unknowable to anybody. Ignore the fanatics on both sides who are ‘sure’, from Chris Giles to Bill Cash.]

Dear Tory MPs and donors

I’ve avoided writing about the substance of Brexit and the negotiations since the anniversary last year but a few of you have been in touch recently asking ‘what do you think?’ so…

Vote Leave said during the referendum that:

1) promising to use the Article 50 process would be stupid and the UK should maintain the possibility of making real preparations to leave while NOT triggering Article 50 and

2) triggering Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan ‘would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger’. 

Following this advice would have maintained the number of positive branching histories of the future, including a friendly departure under Article 50.

The Government immediately accepted bogus legal advice and triggered Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan. This immediately closed many positive branching histories and created major problems. The joy in Brussels was palpable. Hammond and DD responded to this joy with empty sabre rattling which Brussels is now enjoying shoving down their throats.  

The government’s nominal policy, which it put in its manifesto and has repeated many times, is to leave the Single Market and Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

This requires preparing to be a ‘third country’ for the purposes of  EU law. It requires building all the infrastructure and facilities that are normal around the world to manage trade.

This process should have started BEFORE triggering A50 but the government has irretrievably botched this.

Having botched it, it could have partially recovered its blunder by starting to do it afterwards.

No such action has been taken.

Downing Street, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet have made no such preparations and there is no intention of starting.

The Cabinet has never asked for and never been given a briefing from responsible officials on these preparations. Some of them understand this and are happy (e.g Hammond). Most of them don’t understand this and/or prefer not to think about it. It will be trashed in the history books as the pre-1914 Cabinet has been for its failure to discuss what its military alliance with France actually meant until after it was too late.

The few ministers who try to make preparations are often told ‘it’s illegal’ and are blocked by their own Departments, the Cabinet Office and Treasury. The standard officials device of ‘legal advice’ is routinely deployed to whip cowed ministers and spads into line. But given officials now know the May/Hammond plan is surrender, it’s hardly surprising they are not preparing for a Potemkin policy. 

The Treasury argues, with a logic that is both contemptible and reasonable in the comical circumstances, that given the actual outcome of the negotiations will be abject surrender, it is pointless wasting more money to prepare for a policy that has no future and therefore even the Potemkin preparations now underway should be abandoned (NB. the Chancellor has earmarked half of the money for a ‘no deal’ for the fiscal year after we leave the EU).

Instead, Whitehall’s real preparations are for the continuation of EU law and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The expectation is that MPs will end up accepting the terrible agreement as voting it down would be to invite chaos.

In short, the state has made no preparations to leave and plans to make no preparations to leave even after leaving.

Further, the Government promised in the December agreement to do a number of things that are logically, legally and practically incompatible including leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, avoiding ‘friction’ and changing nothing around the Irish border (as defined by the EU), and having no border in the Irish Sea.

The Government has also aided and abetted bullshit invented by Irish nationalists and Remain campaigners that the Belfast Agreement prevents reasonable customs checks on trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Read the agreement. It does no such thing. This has fatally undermined the UK’s negotiating position and has led to the false choice of not really leaving the EU (‘the Government’s backstop’) or undermining the UK’s constitutional integrity (‘the EU’s backstop’). Barwell promised ministers in December that the text did not mean what it plainly did mean. Now he argues ‘you agreed all this in December’. Whenever you think ‘it can’t be this bad’, the internal processes are always much worse than you think.

Parliament and its Select Committees have contributed to delusions. They have made almost no serious investigation of what preparations to be a third country under EU law should be and what steps are being taken to achieve it.

A small faction of pro-Brexit MPs (which also nearly destroyed Vote Leave so they could babble about ‘Global Britain’ in TV debates) could have done one useful thing — forced the government to prepare for their official policy. Instead this faction has instead spent its time trying to persuade people that all talk of ‘preparations’ is a conspiracy of Brussels and Heywood. They were an asset to Remain in the referendum and they’ve helped sink a viable policy since. A party that treats this faction (or Dominic Grieve) as a serious authority on the law deserves everything it gets. (I don’t mean ‘the ERG’ — I mean a subset of the ERG.)

All this contributes to current delusional arguments over supposed ‘models’ (hybrid/max fac etc) that even on their own terms cannot solve the problem of multiple incompatible promises. ‘Compromise proposals’ such as that from Boles which assume the existence of ‘third country’ planning are just more delusions. It doesn’t matter which version of delusion your gangs finally agree on if none of them has a basis in reality and so long as May/Hammond continue they will have no basis in reality.

You can dance around the fundamental issues all you want but in the end ‘reality cannot be fooled’.

The Government effectively has no credible policy and the whole world knows it. By not taking the basic steps any sane Government should have taken from 24 June 2016, including providing itself with world class legal advice, it’s ‘strategy’ has imploded. It now thinks its survival requires surrender, it thinks that admitting this risks its survival, it thinks that the MPs can be bullshitted by clever drafting from officials, and that once Leave MPs and donors — you guys — are ordering your champagne in the autumn for your parties on 30 March 2019 you will balk at bringing down the Government when you finally have to face that you’ve been conned. Eurosceptics are full of shit and threats they don’t deliver, they say in No10, and on this at least they have a point.

This set of problems cannot be solved by swapping ‘useless X’ for ‘competent Y’ or ‘better spin’.

This set of problems cannot be solved by listening to charlatans such as the overwhelming majority of economists and ‘trade experts’ who brand themselves pro-Brexit, live in parallel universes, and spin fantasies to you.

This set of problems derives partly from the fact that the wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional and, worse, those with real institutional power (Cabinet Office/HMT officials etc) have as their top priority the maintenance of this broken system and keeping Britain as closely tied to the EU as possible. There is effectively zero prospect of May’s team, totally underwater, solving these problems not least because they cannot see them — indeed, their only strategy is to ‘trust officials to be honest’, which is like trusting Bernie Madoff with your finances. Brexit cannot be done with the traditional Westminster/Whitehall system as Vote Leave  warned repeatedly before 23 June 2016.

Further, lots of what Corbyn says is more popular than what Tory think tanks say and you believe (e.g nationalising the trains and water companies that have been run by corporate looters who Hammond says ‘we must defend’). You are only at 40% in the polls because a set of UKIP voters has decided to back you until they see how Brexit turns out. You only survived the most useless campaign in modern history because Vote Leave killed UKIP. You’re now acting like you want someone to create a serious version of it.

Ask yourselves: what happens when the country sees you’ve simultaneously a) ‘handed over tens of billions for fuck all’ as they’ll say in focus groups (which the UK had no liability to pay), b) failed to do anything about unskilled immigration, c) persecuted the high skilled immigrants, such as scientists, who the public wants you to be MORE welcoming to, and d) failed to deliver on the nation’s Number One priority — funding for the NHS which is about to have a very high profile anniversary? And what happens if May staggers to 30 March 2019 and, as Barwell is floating with some of you, they then dig in to fight the 2022 campaign?

If you think that babble about ‘the complexity of the Irish border / the Union / peace’ will get you all off the hook, you must be listening to the same people who ran the 2017 campaign. It won’t. The public, when they tune back in at some point, will consider any argument based on Ireland as such obvious bullshit you must be lying. Given they already think you lie about everything, it won’t be a stretch.

Yes there are things you can do to mitigate the train wreck. For example, it requires using the period summer 2019 to autumn 2021 to change the political landscape, which is incompatible with the continuation of the May/Hammond brand of stagnation punctuated by rubbish crisis management. If you go into the 2022 campaign after five years of this and the contest is Tory promises versus Corbyn promises, you will be maximising the odds of Corbyn as PM. Since 1945, only once has a party trying to win a third term increased its number of seats. Not Thatcher. Not Blair. 1959 — after swapping Eden for Macmillan and with over ~6% growth the year before the vote. You will be starting without a majority (unlike others fighting for a third term). You won’t have half that growth — you will need something else. Shuffling some people is necessary but extremely far from sufficient. 

Of course it could have worked out differently but that is now an argument over branching histories for the history books. Yes it’s true that May, Hammond, Heywood and Robbins are Remain and have screwed it up but you’re deluded if you think you’ll be able to blame the debacle just on them. Whitehall is better at the blame game than you are, officials are completely dominant in this government, ministers have chosen to put Heywood/Robbins in charge, and YOU will get most of the blame from the public.

The sooner you internalise these facts and face reality, the better for the country and you.

Every day that you refuse to face reality increases the probability not only of a terrible deal but also of Seumas Milne shortly casting his curious and sceptical eyes over your assets and tax affairs.

It also increases the probability that others will conclude your party is incapable of coping with this situation and, unless it changes fast, drastic action will be needed including the creation of new forces to reflect public contempt for both the main parties and desire for a political force that reflects public priorities.

If revolution there is to be, better to undertake it than undergo it…

Best wishes

Former campaign director of Vote Leave

Ps. This explains part of what needs to be done and as you will see it will not be done by a normal UK party operating with the existing Whitehall system –‘a change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points’ and ‘how to capture the heavens’.

PPS. I should also add there are many officials who wanted to deliver government policy and MPs have let them down appallingly too. The less I say about that the better for them.

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 #24G: Grandstanding MPs and the Zoolander inquiry

The Select Committee doing the inquiry into fake news asked me to give evidence over a month ago.

I said I would be happy to but explained that I could not do those dates and also explained legal issues re the Electoral Commission’s 3rd inquiry which means that lawyers of multiple parties have told me to keep my trap shut until they’ve finished, which is unlikely for months to come.

I also made clear I was happy to give evidence once this snag was out of the way.

Instead of discussing dates in a cooperative way, they went silent for weeks then threatened me this morning with a ‘Summons’. (They have also published claims today about the attitude of the ICO and EC towards me giving evidence which those organisations have never told me.)

I said that if they took such a foolish step — and an unnecessary one given I wanted to give evidence — they would be demonstrating their priority was grandstanding PR, not truth-seeking. I also suggested they bring Wylie and Zoolander back to the Committee to explain the multiple factual errors and inconsistencies in their stories so we could all be clear about what exactly they are really claiming. So far the inquiry on fake news has helped spread fake news across the world.

Minutes later they sent their Summons and asked for confirmation I will change my mind and appear on the date they already knew I could not make.

No, of course not.

I said that if they issued a Summons instead of discussing possible dates like reasonable people, then it would be obvious they are not interested in friendly cooperation to uncover the truth. So I will not give evidence to this Committee under any circumstances. (I may to other Committees depending on behaviour.)

One of the many things about government that could be improved is changes to the Committee process and powers. They should, like in America, have the power to compel attendance (!), but they should also have processes that push them towards truth-seeking behaviour rather than the usual trivialising grandstanding. Committees also need resources for specialist help as they are unable to question witnesses properly on many issues.

If they really wanted to get to the bottom of things, they would have continued discussions over dates, not sent an ineffectual Summons to the media. Their desire for a quick headline has robbed them of hours of TV… 

Ps. For those who missed it, Facebook analysed Vote Leave advertising on Facebook during the referendum and concluded that not only did Vote Leave NOT use the data wrongly appropriated by CA, but that we COULD NOT HAVE DONE. So far, no correction from Observer/C4.

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.