Sunday, August 25, 2019

Making Your Bed and Lying: review of “The Great Hack” available now on Netflix

by Roger Herried

The Netflix documentary  about Cambridge Analytica titled "The Great Hack," made in conjunction with the UK's Guardian newspaper, contains a number of important themes worth flagging:

  The loss of privacy due to social media and big data;

  The new age of advanced voter suppression tactics – referred to as weapons grade psychological warfare;

  The mainstream media's role in voter suppression;

  Facebook as God - or did we all miss the moment when it took over?

  Steve Bannon and his chump Trump's crusade to break democracy;

  and our Voter's ranked choice:  What Authoritarian State do you prefer to be trapped within?  

“The Great Hack” uses the personal stories of three different characters, David Carroll, Britney Kaiser and Carole Cadwalladr to develop  Cambridge Analytica's (CA) role in the 2016 Brexit vote and the U.S. 2016 presidential elections.  David Carroll, who teaches computer sciences in the U.S., and concerned that his 8-year-old daughter would likely have 70,000 data points she could not control by the time she reached 18 years of age, filed suit against CA in an attempt to obtain the personal data the company had on him. At the end of the film he bemoans the fact that after suing CA, it refused to give him his data and likely went into bankruptcy rather than releasing the government ordered release. Britney Kaiser, who was an employee of CA, claimed it aimed "weapons grade communications" technology against voters in the US and UK elections, while the glue that brings the CA scandal together comes from the Guardian's investigative journalist, Carole Cadwalladr who spent two years, day and night tracking down the story and its main characters.  

“The Great Hack” is a complicated but well done story about issues intentionally buried by the US media in keeping with  its own historic role of electoral voter suppression since the days of Jim Crow. Central to the film is Carroll's use of the CA scandal to legally obtain a copy of the personal data the company had on him. Yet for most Americans, data privacy is considered a dead cow, or more to the point, it suggests the immoral state of most of the country's media and those who have led us down a path that makes 1984 look like a happy alternative.  

Prior to going bankrupt, CA claimed to have scooped up to 5,000 data points for every U.S. citizen, aiming their weapons grade software system at US and UK citizens, specifically against undecided voters in an attempt to suppress or shift their voting behavior.  At one point, the documentary shows a Washington Post headline from the Ted Cruz campaign claiming to credit the CA system taking him from last place to actually beating Trump in the Iowa primary. The Netflix presentation glosses over this rather quickly, but there is a 30 minute Youtube piece made in Germany by Alexander Nix, the head of CA, that goes into extensive detail about the weapons grade voter profiling system. 

Before delving into the details of the CA system, readers should understand what is meant by a data point. A single data point might be the entire history of every single time anyone uses a debit/credit card to purchase groceries or when and where someone buys gas, dines out, etc.  Such a large data point can then be sorted through by category and used to create a personal map of what that person bought, why and when that can then be integrated back into the digital advertising world growing around us.  And this traces just one data point.

Who is selling and trading these data points?  A decade ago progressives were already alarmed about what data the government had on the public, unaware that corporate data collection and sales go far beyond what the government has. Phone companies, banks and telecommunication companies retain digital copies of everything anyone does today, not just the meta-data.  Google for example has a database listing every single search anyone ever looked at or went to.  That's another data point.   Imagine what PG&E is collecting with their smart meters (another) or Amazon's cute little Ring video security box (another) that EFF recently exposed as having a direct line to law enforcement—without the user's knowledge. 

Thus, David's concern is ultimately supported by Kaiser and Carole, shown giving a TED Talk in Silicon Valley where she confronts  Bay Area tech companies about their role manipulating elections here and around the world with their deployment of big data models.

The documentary itself starts out with a visit to Donald Trump's election headquarters in Texas with images of both Google and Facebook staffers actually embedded along with Trump workers to help coordinate #45’s online ad campaign.  It shows that the Trump campaign spent over a million dollars a day or $80 million in 2016 on social media.  During the election cycle their social media project produced 5.9 million targeted ads compared to 66,000 by his challenger, who spent most of her far bigger budget on TV ads. 

The half hour presentation by CA's Alexander Nix demonstrates specific details showing how behavioral science, data analytics and addressable ad technology, focused down to the individual, were applied during the Cruz and the Trump campaigns.  Nix’s and CA's goal aimed to identify a very tiny public minority undecided about whether to vote or for whom. Cambridge psychologist (Professor Aleksandr Kogen) designed a short Facebook survey called OCEAN or Openness - Conscientiousness - Extroversion - Agreeableness - and Neuroticism specifically used to identify 5 major personality profiles as a way to build personally targeted attack ads once other polling data identified someone as a likely candidate meriting their attention. 

It was this specific OCEAN system that Britany Kaiser identified as the "weapons grade technology" which was used in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania during the 2016 election. A UK government investigation referred to it, claiming that the UK election system was no longer safe. What happened to those databases?  Might they have been sold to the RNC or somebody else? 

To clarify such speculation it may be helpful to understand that CA was started by Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign manager, and funded by the secretive right-wing billionaire, Robert Mercer,  the Breitbart operative who suggested that Putin create a Europe-wide nationalist movement and whose stated agenda has been to break up the United States through social media disinformation.

Why would the U.S. media establishment find it very uncomfortable to share the fact that the U.S. is in the early stages of applying psychological warfare against its own citizens?  Or that CA's profiling model on Facebook is just the tip of this country's historic voter suppression agenda? 

The Washington Post published a couple of documentaries about Facebook's agenda going back to 2013 as well as experiments the social media giant had been conducting internally to see if it could impact the mood of its users.   But the Post has never repeated these bombshell stories!  It should be clear that CA understood that their model doesn't necessarily work on everyone being targeted, but then the full story of CA has yet to be exposed.  

The company itself is a subsidiary of the SCL Group which dates back to the 1990's and has long been in the business of destroying elections in third-world countries for its clients, the US and UK military and intelligence communities.  Here is where the story gets really dirty. Nix goes into detail how the company used fake movements they created and seeded to undermine the elections of Trinidad and Tobago as well as over a dozen other countries.  The Guardian's coverage finally broke out with underground footage of Alexander Nix vaunting his claim for their involvement in election manipulation, and showed shots of them partying, along with leaders of the Brexit campaign, with Trump during his election eve victory. The Guardian revealed how CA's global skill-set destroying elections helped them come up with the crooked Hillary meme and launch it on the internet. 

Footage shows Zuckerberg prevaricating before Congress while Britany jumps on the phone to text a senator an urgent question she thinks needs to be asked at the hearing...

At the film’s climax, with voice-over commentary by Britany it shows what at first appears to be an onscreen file identifying the size of the CA's voter database but another screen does identify the many different databases totaling 150 million Americans that CA was using as part of the Trump campaign.  Close-ups review her own life and testimony in the UK and the US, along with shots of her involvement with the Brexit campaign and explain why she went from working on the Obama election campaign to working for Trump's election.  But ultimately the viewer gets the complicated story needing far more attention on this convergence of critical issues.

How much of Facebook's income is made by monetization of its users' personal data? Britany and David follow up with their own answer to the question, "All of it."

This means we are talking about one of the largest companies in the world actively seeking to play a dominant role in manipulating elections here and around the world via its AI newsfeeds and advertising models, and that the only country in the world that has any regulatory authority over it is the U.S.   

It’s been decades since the McCain Feingold hearings heard testimony by witnesses exposing the fact that the strongest opponent of campaign finance reform is the media and its broadcaster's association, with the election cycle is its biggest cash cow.   

Maybe  we appear to be going through a three-year presidential election cycle because the media has very nearly been overtaken monetarily by Facebook and is not yet ready to spill the beans.  At least not yet. 

As the Amazon, the Arctic, and Africa burn, demand Trump take action on climate change before it’s too late at,5,25,50,100,250&code=daga&

Tell Congress and ICE to stop the raids that took over 600 people recently in Mississippi at


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