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The Cambridge Analytica Angle, Explained

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is suddenly a major problem for Facebook.

On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into how Cambridge Analytica, ostensibly a voter-profiling company, accessed data about 50 million Facebook users, according to The Wall Street Journal. It’s not alone: The GOP-controlled Senate Commerce Committee demanded answers from Facebook on Monday, as did Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon.

The social giant’s stock has also lost about 12 percent of its value since The New York Times and The Guardian broke the first stories about the scandal over the weekend.

The scandal sure seems like bad news. But if you’re a little fuzzy, here is a summary of the heart of the scandal as it involves Facebook, in one paragraph:

In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.

That’s the whole thing. The Guardian referred to the data misuse as a “breach,” a description which Facebook contests. “No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked,” tweeted one Facebook executive. But it’s not hard to see why U.S. and U.K. lawmakers remain interested in the episode: It’s almost like Facebook was a local public library lending out massive hard drives of music, but warning people not to copy any of it to their home computer. When someone eventually did copy all that music—and got in trouble for it—isn’t the hard-drive-dispensing public library responsible as well?

There is a second part of the scandal, but it concerns Cambridge Analytica and its connection to President Trump’s political world. So, here’s a summary in two paragraphs:

Cambridge Analytica has significant ties to some of President Trump’s most prominent supporters and advisers. Rebekah Mercer, a Republican donor and a co-owner of Breitbart News, sits on the board of Cambridge Analytica. Her father, Robert Mercer, invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica on the recommendation of his political adviser, Steve Bannon, according to the TimesOn Monday, hidden-camera footage appeared to show Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, offering to bribe and blackmail public officials around the world. If Nix did so, it would violate U.K. law. Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix on Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica also used its “psychographic” tools to make targeted online ad buys for the Brexit “Leave” campaign, the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, and the 2016 Trump campaign. If any British Cambridge Analytica employees without a green card worked on those two U.S. campaigns, they did so in violation of federal law. If information or data was passed on to Russians (the aforementioned Aleksandr Kogan had previously unreported ties to St. Petersberg University and Cambridge Analytica had done a presentation for Energy firm Lukoil, which is now on the US sanctions list), then you have possible “collusion”.

But there’s still much we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. Did its “psychographic” tools, built with the misused Facebook data, actually work? Did various hard-right campaigns consider Cambridge Analytica so important because its technology reshaped U.S. and U.K. politics—or because using it ingratiated campaigns to Robert and Rebekah Mercer, two of the richest people in the world? And if Cambridge Analytica really was a voter-profiling company, what was its chief executive doing apparently promising to bribe and blackmail public officials?

Questions remain about Facebook’s role, too. Since the 2016 elections, public ire has focused on the company’s powerful News Feed and the role it played in amplifying Russian propaganda and other hoaxes. Lawmakers have also criticized the company’s lax sale of political advertisements to purchasers literally paying with Russian rubles. Political ads are not regulated as closely online as they are on the TV or radio.

But the Cambridge Analytica scandal opens a new front for the company. Before Facebook became a distributor of news, it was a platform for online applications, like personality quizzes and social games like Farmville. Facebook has allowed third-party app developers to access some private user data since May 2007, when it first opened the Facebook platform. Users must consent to giving apps their data, but sometimes—as in the case of Kogan’s app—developers can access data about a consenting user’s friends, without getting those friends’ consent.

During the ensuing decade, Facebook has occasionally tweaked how much data apps can access. But over that time, how many developers abided by Facebook’s rules? How many followed Kogan’s route, caching the data and making their own private databases? Where is that information now? And if all that private user data is as powerful as Cambridge Analytica once said it was, what has it been used to do?

Fox Analyst Quits, Calling Fox A “Propaganda Machine”


A retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and Fox News contributor quit Tuesday and denounced the network and President Donald Trump in an email to colleagues.

“Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” wrote Peters, a Fox News “strategic analyst.”

“Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed,” he wrote.

Peters, who was also a heated critic of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, who once describedhim as having been “date raped” by Vladimir Putin. He didn’t respond to an email about his missive. A Fox News spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Here’s Peters’ full email to colleagues:

On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:

First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you’ve shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don’t often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.

Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece–some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You’re the grown-ups.

Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..

So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president’s favorite world leader would say, “Das vidanya.”

Trump Can’t Avoid Groping Lawsuit


As busy as Donald Trump is being president, he can’t avoid a former “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation lawsuit where he may be forced to respond under oath to allegations of sexual assault and his treatment of women.

It’s an issue that flared up during the election campaign and while he’s been president. Trump is separately embroiled in a scandal involving a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress — Stormy Daniels — who alleges he’s attempting to prevent her from discussing a sexual relationship she had with him in 2006. Daniels’s interview on “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air March 25.

Summer Zervos, a contender on The Apprentice in 2005, sued Trump in January 2017 in Manhattan state court, alleging he “ambushed” her on more than one occasion starting in 2007, kissing her, touching her breast and pressing his genitals against her.

Trump argued he should be shielded by the U.S. Constitution because it’s too much of a distraction for the nation’s chief executive to face civil claims in state court.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter on Tuesday denied the president’s request to throw out the lawsuit or delay it until he leaves office.

“No one is above the law,” Schecter said, citing the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton that said the president doesn’t have immunity and is subject to the law for “purely private acts.”

“Nothing in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the president cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility,” Schecter wrote.

That’s just wrong. It’s going to cut into his Fox & Friends/tweeting time.

Updates On Cambridge Analytica

(1)  Score one for the Democrats on the House Intel Committee

The whistleblower who publicly revealed how Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica used information mined from Facebook under false pretenses during the 2016 election cycle will give an interview to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation of Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.

A lawyer for Christopher Wylie confirmed Tuesday that Wylie plans to accept the invitation from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).

Schiff said Monday that panel Democrats want to talk to Wylie to determine where and how the Facebook data was stored and used, and whether others — including Russian operatives — had access to it.

“Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately-acquired data on millions of Americans to help sway the election,” Schiff said in a statement.

Democrats on the House panel vowed last week to continue to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, despite the committee’s Republican leaders announcing that they had completed a draft report about the panel’s findings. The panel is expected to approve a final version of that report Thursday, although it will not be released publicly until the intelligence community reviews it and makes any necessary redactions.

House Democrats do not have independent power to subpoena witnesses to testify. But Wylie has been outspoken about how Cambridge Analytica — a company he helped build, according to a profile in the Guardian — planned to use the Facebook users’ data and an algorithm to build “psychographic” profiles that could be used to predict the political leanings of every potential American voter.

Facebook gave permission to University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan to access information on 270,000 users of the social media site to help build a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” But the app’s reach went much further, ultimately allowing Kogan to access data on 50 million users. The information was passed on to Cambridge Analytica and Wylie, breaking the terms struck with Facebook for access to the data. Facebook found out about the events in 2015, but was told that Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan had deleted the data. Several days ago, Facebook discovered that they had not.

Last year, the House Intelligence Committee spoke with Wylie’s former boss Alexander Nix — the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica — by videoconference, as Nix is located in London.

Schiff stressed in his invitation to Wylie that his accounts of Cambridge Analytica’s data operations “raise serious questions about the veracity of the testimony” Nix gave to the committee.

This is gratifying for a couple of reasons. First, and most obviously, we might get some information on any Russia connection (Kogan being well-connected to Russia).

Secondly, it demonstrates how the Republicans on the House Intel Committee forced a premature ending to their investigation of Trump-Russia collusion. Might the Cambridge Analytica avenue be a dead end?  Perhaps. But it needs investigating, and since the House Intel Committee already saw fit to interview Nix, then Wylie’s testimony is also relevant.

(2) North Carolina GOP REALLY had ties to Cambridge Analytica

The North Carolina Republican party and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) paid the controversial British data firm Cambridge Analytica $345,000 for a direct mail campaign and consulting work, the News & Observer reported Monday.

Cambridge Analytica, which the Trump campaign used during the 2016 election, has recently come under fire after reports that it illegally obtained the private Facebook profiles of 50 million people, but there is no indication that the firm used any data from the breach in their work with the North Carolina Republicans.

The firm consulted Tillis on his successful 2014 campaign.

Dallas Woodhouse, the state’s GOP executive director, said the firm did not work on social media for the party and that the party does not plan to hire them again.

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica on Friday following reports that it had violated its privacy policy.

An undercover investigation by London’s Channel 4 secretly filmed the CEO of the firm saying that he used bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

Cambridge Analytica has denied using bribes, entrapment “or so-called honey-traps” and said that it did not use data harvested from Facebook profiles for the Trump campaign.

The firm has also said that, contrary to reports, it deleted all the Facebook data it had accumulated.

Yup. North Carolina GOP was one of CA’s biggest non-presidential race clients. In fact, the NC GOP was the only state party client of Cambridge Analytica. It was the firm’s fourth-largest client in 2014.  These are the payments to CA from June 2014 to December 2016, according to FEC filings.

I wish we could find out exactly what it was FOR, but given the NC GOP’s penchant for minority voter suppression, I can give an educated guess.

Austin Targeted By Fifth (and Possibly Sixth) Bomb

Austin, Texas, which has been rocked by a series of bomb explosions in recent weeks, is still under heavy threat with two bombs found at different FedEx facilities in Texas.

Overnight, there was an explosion at a FedEx facility just outside of San Antonio. A package that was to be sent to Austin transferred from one conveyor belt to another, setting it off. The package’s origin was also Austin, Texas. Via CBS:

The San Antonio Texas Fire Department said a package bomb apparently bound for Austin exploded at a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas, hurting one person, a FedEx employee who apparently suffered a non-life-threatening “percussion-type” injury from the blast. An FBI agent told CBS News “it’s more than possible” the package is related to explosions that have occurred in Austin in recent days.

The package exploded shortly after midnight on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a possible sixth package has also been found at a FedEx facility, this one in the Austin airport. This from the AP:

Austin police have deployed a hazardous materials squad to a FedEx shipping facility near the city’s airport to investigate reports of a suspicious package.

It isn’t known yet if the suspicious package is linked to a bomb that detonated earlier Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio or the four bombs that have gone off in Austin this month.

But the Austin Police Department says an investigation is underway.

There is no confirmation at this time whether or not the package at the city airport is actually a bomb, but local authorities are taking no chances in the wake of the previous attacks in the city.

There’s also no confirmation at this time of any suspects in the bombings or any motivations whatsoever.

Another High School Shooting

Initial reports of the shooting came after classes at Great Mills began at 8 a.m. ET. About 1,600 students attend the school.

Channel 4 Exposes Cambridge Analytica

The data firm behind Brexit, and the Trump Administration, gets an unflattering expose:

Make no mistake — Trump’s digital consultants admit to using bribes and sex workers to entrap political opponents.

This segment just aired on Channel 4 in Britain (and loaded up to YouTube) so it is breaking news.  And already, there are repercussions…

RELATED: Facebook has some questions to answer for, re the data that Cambridge Analytica used:

More Bombs In Austin

What’s going on?

Residents of a southwest Austin neighborhood were told to stay inside early Monday after a fourth explosion in less than a month hit Texas’ capital, injuring two men and stoking fears in a city already on edge.

The latest blast occurred Sunday just after 8:30 p.m. local time (9:30 p.m. ET). Two bicyclists who are believed to be in their 20s sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, officials said.

The two men came across a suspicious device on the side of the road, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said during a late-night news conference.

Unlike the prior explosions, the one Sunday may have been triggered by a tripwire, according to Manley.

“We will not be able to send school buses into the neighborhood on Monday,” he said. “In addition to that, we’re going to ask the residents in the Travis County neighborhood to stay in your homes tomorrow morning and give us the opportunity to process the scene once the sun comes up.”


Asked Sunday whether the bombings were racially motivated, Manley said it was possible.

Police believe the two earlier bombings were “meant to send a message,” though Manley didn’t say what that message was during a news conference earlier Sunday.

The fourth explosion came just hours after officials made a direct appeal to the person responsible to contact them.

In that news conference, Manley said that he hoped the bomber was watching and would “reach out to us before anyone else is injured or killed.”

The plea came as local and federal authorities increased the reward for information leading to a conviction to $100,000, Manley said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was also offering $15,000.

“We don’t have any evidence,” Manley said. “What we know for certain is: We have three victims that are victims of color, and we have three package bombs that have exploded on the east side of Austin,” where many of the city’s minority residents live.

Self-Driving Uber Hits And Kills Pedestrian In First-Of-Its-Kind Accident

I had my doubts about the technology. I didn’t think it is there yet, and this proves it.

Uber has halted testing of its autonomous vehicles across North America, the company announced, after a woman was struck and killed by one of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Ariz. early Monday.

The moratorium on testing includes San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto, Uber said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the crash, said Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the NTSB.

Uber issued a short statement.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” a company spokeswoman said.

It is believed to be the first fatality in any testing program involving autonomous vehicles.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a tweet that the company was working to learn what went wrong.

Well, some reports are already specifying “what went wrong”:

The 49 year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg, was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk when the Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a human safety driver, struck her, according to the Tempe Police Department. She was transferred to a local hospital where she died from her injuries. “Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation,” Liliana Duran, a Tempe police spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

Did you catch that? She crossing the road “outside of a crosswalk”. Now, I’m saying that tongue-in-cheek that her jaywalking was “what went wrong”, but I have a feeling a lot of tech geeks actually will blame HER for that.

I have a degree in human factors (engineering design), and rule number one is that you design the thing to comply with NORMAL human behavior. You can’t expect the public to walk between the lines of a crosswalk just because you have designed your machine to work that way.  If you know — or SHOULD KNOW — how humans behave, you are liable. Whoever designed this thing, is liable. Period.

Breaking: Trump To Hire Attorney Who Holds Deep State Conspiracy Theory

Oh, this is getting good.  New York Times:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Trump has decided to hire the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova, who has pushed the theory on television that Mr. Trump was framed by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials, to bolster his legal team, according to three people told of the decision.

As seen on TV…. of course.

Mr. diGenova is not expected to take a lead role but will instead serve as a more aggressive player on the president’s legal team. Mr. Trump broke over the weekend from the longstanding advice of some of his lawyers that he refrain from directly attacking the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, a sign of his growing unease with the investigation.

I wonder what role he will take. He certainly will butt heads with other counsel, making Trump’s round table of legal counsel as chaotic as his White House.

The hire has not been announced, and Mr. Trump frequently changes his mind and sometimes adjusts his plans based on media coverage. It was not clear whether Mr. Trump planned to hire other lawyers.

Mr. diGenova has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president. “There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News in January. He added, “Make no mistake about it: A group of F.B.I. and D.O.J. people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.”

That’s an easy thing to say, but there clearly was a crime. The Russian hacked. The Russian manipulated social media. Those things happened, unless of course, you want to bring in the CIA and military intelligence into the conspiracy.  I’ll be the first to say that Trump personally may not have known or colluded with the crime, but let’s not say that there is merely a “falsely created crime” to begin with.

Little evidence has emerged to support that theory.

No shit.

Mr. diGenova is law partners with his wife, Victoria Toensing. Ms. Toensing has also represented Sam Clovis, the former Trump campaign co-chairman, and Erik Prince, the founder of the security contractor Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump. Mr. Prince attended a meeting in January 2017 with a Russian investor in the Seychelles that the special counsel is investigating.

This could be a conflict of interest.

Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing have spent decades pushing smears of Democrats in the press. They played a key role in pushing debunked claims that the Obama administration was threatening Benghazi “whistleblowers.”  So, their addition to the team means this is another made-for-TV reality show.



In 1997, diGenova wrote an article advocating that a sitting president could be indicted — no need to wait for impeachment. I wonder if his views have changed since then….


Weekly List 70

In another frenzied week in America, Trump fired his secretary of state through a tweet, and continued to stoke fears of imminent additional departures, in what was described as a White House verging on mania. Trump is reportedly joyful, feeling…

Trump-Russia Scandal

Your Facebook Data, Cambridge Analytica, and Russia: Was There Collusion?

During an interview on TODAY this morning, Christopher Wylie, a former employee of U.K.-based data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, revealed the company worked with two key Trump campaign aides prior to President Donald Trump’s candidacy. “Cambridge Analytica was meeting with Corey Lewandowski in…