Tag: Cambridge Analytica

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

Inside the Integrity Initiative, the UK gov’s information war on the public with Journalists Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Professor David Miller.

The Institute for Statecraft and its offshoot, the Integrity Initiative, constitute a secret propaganda network tied to the UK security services. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, journalists and academics to manufacture and disseminate propaganda serving the geopolitical and economic aims of the UK and those of its allies.

The Integrity Initiative is a self declared ‘charity’, funded by the UK Foreign Office, British Army and Ministry of Defence, which has been described by the Sunday Mail as a right wing infowars unit.

The Institute for Statecraft, which “led” the Integrity Initiative, was traced to this mill in Fife (Image: Sunday Mail.)

Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked in November after Anonymous hackers released a volume of documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting ‘Russian disinformation.’

The highly secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing Her Majesty’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘Kremlin stooge’ – ostensibly as part of its crusade against ‘Russian disinformation.’ The Initiative has received more than £2.2million from the Foreign Office in two years to – in one minister’s words – “defend democracy against disinformation.”

The latest leaks indicate that the organisation played a central role in shaping media narratives after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were mysteriously poisoned in Salisbury last March. It’s notable that many of the draconian anti-Russia measures that the group advocated as far back as 2015 were swiftly implemented following the Skripal affair – even as London refused to back up its blame frame with evidence.

Within days of the Skripal poisonings, the Institute solicited its services to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), offering to “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries.

After receiving the government’s endorsement, the Integrity Initiative launched Operation Iris,’ enlisting the “global investigative solutions” company Harod Associates to analyse social media activity related to the Skripal incident. 

The latest release of hacked documents also revealed a curious link between the Integrity Initiative and Skripal himself – a connection made all the more suspicious by the group’s central role in coordinating a determined and evidence-free  campaign to implicate and punish Moscow for the alleged nerve-agent attack.

One document from July 2018 contains contact details for Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter, handler and (conveniently) neighbour in Salisbury. Miller, it seems, had been invited to a function hosted by the Institute. The plot sickens.

I have wondered what happened to Yulia Skripal. Worryingly, she has dropped off the media radar.

David Miller, Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol School for Policy Studies, has said that despite being ignored by the media, leaks from Integrity Initiative have paralysed the operations of this UK-funded covert influence network, and could ultimately lead to its dismantling.

Miller also believes that: “People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

I agree. I think it’s obscene that our money is being spent on covert military grade psyop operations designed specifically to micromanage our perceptions of reality and to stage-manage our democracy. 

He adds: “This [leak] has made a mess of [Integrity Initiative’s] operations, they are spending most of their time now trying to fire-fight on the coverage this is getting. And they are not doing essentially what they are being paid to do, which is to counter the Russians.

“The British government is getting bad value for money, if it was ever getting ‘better’ value.”

As part of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, which studies Western attempts to control media coverage of key international events, Miller has played a crucial role in studying the four tranches of data anonymously uploaded and sourced from the previously little-known group, which has been backed by the UK Foreign Office, NATO and Facebook, to the tune of over £1 million per year.

The documents, whose authenticity has not been denied by government, contain details of psyops against public figures, of the manipulation of media coverage from leading outlets, and have also revealed worldwide networks of prominent journalists and academics, secretly engaged to discredit, at every turn, pro-Moscow points of view and left wing political developments.

Despite the refusal by all of those named to either admit their connection or to say that there was nothing untoward in their activities, Miller believes that the exposure has made it more difficult for them to push and publish anti-Russian content.

The Integrity Initiative has waged an information and propaganda war on the public. Yet nothing has been done to address the scandal surrounding this McCarthyist UK government-funded think tank, which has attacked Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-war left and laundered disinformation through the corporate media under the guise of ‘countering Russia’. 

“Most of the people named are trying to pretend that this is not all of great significance, but the revelation of the involvement of the government in manipulating other countries, and the political process in the UK, is extremely damaging for them,”  Miller says. 

Miller has also said that Parliament needs to conduct a more sustained inquiry into Integrity Initiative, and Jeremy Corbyn smears. 

For Miller, the “cardinal sin” from a UK perspective was the smearing of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, as a potential ‘Kremlin ally’ in Whitehall, which means that a state-paid intelligence operation has been manipulating domestic politics.

Miller also points to the absence of coverage of what he calls a “real, genuine scandal” in top news sources, which, he says, are themselves implicated in the scandal fallout.

Miller also sates that, at the very least, this exposure should lead to a crucial national dialogue about the role intelligence agencies should play in public life and in influencing politics.

Why, it’s as if the role of MI6 in the faked Zinoviev letter has habituated the Establishment to maintain the status quo at all cost, including the stage-managing of our democracy, using anti-Russian sentiment as a template. It’s also apparently become such normalised behaviour that it’s hiding in plain view.

“Integrity Initiative are beyond the realms of sense. The activities they are engaged in are morally and ethically dubious, and will certainly – as we can see already – backfire on them,” Miller continued.

“This will result hopefully in the ending of this operation, and if we are lucky, a sensible discussion in parliament about controlling the future of British covert operations.”

Funding shot up to £2.6 million in 2018-19, with £1.96 million from the FCO and the rest from the US State Department, NATO and the American neoconservative Smith Richardson Foundation. Facebook, which plays in integral role in imposing censorship on behalf of the US, donated £100,000. See: UK Integrity Initiative heavily involved in Skripal affair.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has said: “It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes.

“So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.”

Andrew Fisher, an aide to the Labour leader, said: “This astonishing story really deserves attention.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity.

“We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

Isn’t it obvious?

Surveillance capitalism: citizens as a means to an end

So far I haven’t seen anyone make the connection between the exposure of the Integrity Initiative and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Or the fact that the government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of citizens’ money so the Conservatives could target them with personalised dark ads and psyop-crafted strategic comms

As soon as the Conservatives casually announced their ‘behaviour change’ agenda back in 2010, and instituted the ‘Nudge Unit’, a scandal of the type surrounding  Cambridge Analytica/SCL was inevitable. How could anyone expect that an increasingly authoritarian government, somewhat defined by resistance to change, would resist the temptation to draw on ‘behavioural science’ techniques to manipulate citizens’ perceptions, cognitions, behaviours, choices, and ultimately, their voting decisions?

‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. It involves the predictive analysis of big datasets describing the lives, choices and behaviours of tens or hundreds of millions of people, allowing correlations and patterns to be identified, information about individuals inferred and analysised, and future behaviour and decisions to be predicted. This is then used to influence behaviours through personalised and ‘dynamic’ targeted advertising. 

This whole process is refined by an experimental approach – testing a range of variations of adverts on different demographics to determine what works best. Every time we log on we potentially become the unwitting and thus non consenting subject of trials designed to determine how to most effectively extract money from us or to persuade us of something. The common denominator is the covert use of powerful behavioural modification strategies: psyops. 

Our personal data is being used to construct ‘persuasion profiles’, using sets of estimates – based on probabilities – on the effectiveness of particular influence-strategies on individuals, which are also based on past responses to these strategies. Some of these companies are also experimenting with biometrics.

We are led to believe that it is other states that seek to meddle in the UK’s elections. The use of data analytics and psychological profiling to target people on social media with political content, has had a profound political impact, but it remains largely unappreciated. Political campaigning has shifted from being a public process to being a private, personalised series of micro-monitoring strategies, enabled by access to the apparatus and mechanisms of surveillance capitalism. It’s a process that has led to the government regarding citizens as a means to an end – that being simply maintaining power, upholding the status quo.

The Snowden leaks in 2013 concerning GCHQ and the NSA’s covert activities made controversial headlines around the world. GCHQ’s stated aim was to compile a profile of the internet habits of every user on the web.  The Investigatory Powers Act, commonly known as the “snooper’s charter, permits the security and intelligence agencies legal authority to acquire personal datasets from technology companies in bulk, and the UK government is reported to be exploring an agreement with the US that would give British intelligence agencies better access to these databases.

Data sharing between surveillance companies and state security and intelligence agencies is well established. In the US, tech companies have been forced to hand over data about their users to the NSA for some time. When Yahoo refused, they were threatened with a $250,000 fine, every day, with the fine doubling every week that their non-compliance continued, faced with the prospect of financial ruin, they acquiesced.

Clearly, monitoring and surveillance practices have changed the relationship between the citizen and the state, shifting the balance of power and distorting democracy.

It cannot be right for either private companies or governments to use citizens as Pavlovian dogs. Such personalised psychological persuasive strategies seriously undermine the human autonomy that is central to human dignity and democracy.  

Related

 Documents of the “Integrity Initiative” Part 4  – Anonymous (4 January 2019)

The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook – Chris Williamson, Morning Star Online

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudgebased strategies

Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Repor–  House of Commons
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee 

The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations – The Intercept

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign


 

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Dear BBC, please stop reporting what Guido Fawkes says, he’s just a far right propagandist

Tim Fenton of Zelo Street wrote an excellent article yesterday – see BBC Bias – This Time It’s Blatant, in which he observes how mainstream media coverage of the Information Commissioner’s Facebook fine inexcusably diverted attention from the illegal activities of the Leave campaign to framing the Labour party as the sole miscreants regarding the data analytics/ Aggregate IQ scandal, exposed by Carole Cadwalladr, indicating the subversion of our democracy.

However, the mainstream news coverage of these pressing issues itself reveals that the subversion is very real. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without public consent. It was announced that the ICO is expanding its 14-month investigation into data and politics, which has centred on the Facebook data leak, into whether Arron Banks, a major donor to the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, improperly gave pro-Brexit groups data about voters obtained for insurance purposes.

The ICO is also investigating whether Banks’ Eldon Insurance Limited’s call-centre staff used customer databases to make calls on behalf of Leave.EU. The official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is also being investigated over how it collected and shared personal information. The ICO opened its inquiry in May 2017 “to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns”. 

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said the ICO had been “astounded” by the amount of personal data in the possession of Britain’s political parties. (See The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaignwhich details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election.)

It’s understood that the ICO sent warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree audits of data protection practices, and started a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections – parent company of Cambridge Analytica, after accusing the company of failing to deal properly with a data request. The investigation also found that Aggregate IQ, a Canadian electoral services company, had “significant links” to Cambridge Analytica, Denham said, and “may still retain” data about UK voters; the ICO has filed an enforcement notice against the company to stop processing that data.

Denham also said the impact of behavioural advertising, when it came to elections, was “significant” and called for a code of practice to “fix the system”.

Despite the scope of the investigations, the only issue mentioned on the BBC site was concerning the Labour party. Fenton observes “By yesterday afternoon, the sole mention of the Facebook and AIQ story on their website was an item titled “New mums’ data illegally sold to Labour.”

Fenton also notes: “Almost as a footnote in the Facebook, AIQ and Vote Leave story, the Guardian noted that ‘As part of its investigation, the ICO also issued a notice of intent to take regulatory action against Lifecycle Marketing (Mother & Baby) Limited, a data broker that provides information to new mothers and the trading name of the website Emma’s Diary, which was used by the Labour party’. Then a familiar player came into view.” 

“The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog told their readers ‘Labour Party’s Data Broker Fined £140,000 By Information Commissioner’, ending their highly selective analysis with the sneering comment ‘Labour MPs have been tweeting about the ICO report on Facebook data breaches all day. Oddly none have mentioned the above finding. Sure Carole Cadwalladr will be splashing on this for the Observer this weekend’. And there it might have stayed.

“Except for the BBC. By yesterday afternoon, the sole mention of the Facebook and AIQ story on their website was an item titled “New mums’ data illegally sold to Labour”. The framing of the story by the Guido Fawkes blog was accepted as fact by the BBC.” 

In response to the ICO’s report, Conservative MP, Damian Collins, chair of a parliamentary committee, who are investigating online disinformation, said it was “essential that the public know whether other organisations harvested data from Facebook.” He said: “This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook.

“If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.”

We also have a right to know about his own government’s involvement in using data without the public’s consent, but he is curiously quiet on this score.

“We were significantly concerned around the nature of the data that the political parties had access to,” said Steve Wood, the deputy information commissioner, “and we followed the trail to look at the different data brokers who were supplying the political parties.

The important question to ask is what are we being diverted from?

Earlier this year, I followed the trial of the Conservative’s spending on data analytic companies during the run up to the snap general election last year.  This is because the Conservatives were, by and large, the biggest client of many private firms that peddle “psychographic targeting”, “strategic communications” and “behavioural change” methods.

Curiously, despite the fact that this information is very accessible on the Electoral Commission’s website, I haven’t seen it reported anywhere. Anyone would think the information was being suppressed.

It was only a matter of time before the powerful tools of digital tracking and corporate surveillance, including techniques designed for manipulating opinions and behaviours, shifted from the realm of PR, product and service marketing to politics and voter targeting.

The markets for personal data have always been markets for behavioural control also. And markets of behavioural control are composed of those who sell opportunities to influence behaviour for power and profit, and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage

While the government’s controversial ‘dark ads’ campaign attracted some concerned commentary last year, in part because it used data and psychographic profiling to manipulate individual traits and characteristics, it seems like no-one is joining the dots, still. 

The government paid out vast amounts of money to the following companies for ‘research’ and data collection, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, psychographic profiling, ‘strategic communcations’, and ‘targeted’ advertising services: 

Experian, (paid £683,636.34) Reed Consultancy, (paid £178,558.03), Google Analytics (paid £1,020,232.17), Facebook (paid £3,177,416.68), Twitter (paid £56,504.32), among others, to research, canvass and advertise their party ‘brand’.

And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

Blue Telecoms were paid £375,882.56 for ‘unsolicited material to electors’ and ‘advertising’. It says on their site that Blue Telecoms is a trading name for Direct Market Solutions Ltd. The company director is Sascha Lopez , a businessman who stood as a local council candidate for the Tories in the 2017 local elections. He is also an active director of the Lopez Group, although that company’s accounts are very overdue, there is an active proposal to strike off on the government’s Companies House page. If directors are late in filing their company accounts, and don’t reply to warnings from Companies House, their company can be struck-off the Companies House register and therefore cease to exist. Other companies he was active in have been liquidated (3) and dissolved (2).

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

Another company that the Conservatives used and paid £120,000 out to for market research and canvassing during their general election campaign is Outra. Jim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

outra.png
Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for ‘market research/canvassing’.

Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services.  The company conducts “Targeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”. 

The company also says:

MGI.png

The Messina Group are in a ‘strategic partnership with Outra serving as one of Outra’s primary advisors on data, analytics, and ‘customer engagement.’

British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending.

Combobulate Limited, which is listed as a management consultancy, earned £43,200 from the Tories for ‘research/canvassing’ and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’. The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting DataMason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off .

Another similar company, An Abundance Limited, which is listed as a ‘behaviour change agency’, were paid £2,400 for ‘market research and canvassing’ by the Conservatives in the run-up to the election last year. 

Populus Data Solutions, who say they provide “state of the art data capture”, were paid £196,452 for research/canvasing and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. This company have also developed the use of biometrics – facial coding in particular.

St Ives management services were paid £3,556,030.91, for ‘research/canvasing,’ ‘unsolicited material to electors’, advertising, overheads and general administration, media and rallies, and manifesto material.

sims

Edmonds Elder Ltd, a digital consultancy, were paid £156,240.00 for advertising. The site  says the company also provides services in vague sounding ‘government affairs’ “We use cutting-edge digital techniques to help government affairs teams make the case for their policy and regulatory positions – harnessing support from communities across the country to ensure a positive outcome.”  

Craig Elder is also the Conservative party’s digital director. Tom Edmonds was the Conservative party’s creative director between 2013 and 2015.

Hines Digital  who is a partner of Edmonds Elder Ltd, is a conservative digital agency that builds strong brands, huge email lists, and big league fundraising revenue for our clients, helping conservative campaigns & causes, and companies, achieve their goals.”

It also says on the site that “Hines worked with conservative campaigns & causes in fifteen U.S. states and nine countries.” The company designed the ‘digital infrastructure’ of Theresa May’s leadership campaign launch in 2016, they built her website (but aren’t listed in election expenses.) Hines says: 

That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team — led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day’s earned media through effective online organizing.

Overall, the initial holding page saw a 18% conversion rate on day one — meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That’s a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.”

eldre

And“We are experts at identifying people online – and targeting them to drive the activity your organisation needs.”

With political adverts like this, which aren’t fact checked and only the person targeted gets to see them:

Walker Media Limited are a digital marketing and media company, they facilitate Facebook adverts and campaigns, among other services. They were paid £798,610.21 from the Conservatives’ election campaign. One of their other social media marketing campaigns listed on their site is for “The Outdoor and Hunting Industry”.

Simon Davis serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Walker Media Holdings Limited and Blue 449. Davis served as Managing Director ofWalker Media at M&C Saatchi plc, a global PR and advertising company, who have worked for the Conservatives before, designing campaign posters and anti-Labour adverts – including the controversial ‘New Labour, New Danger’ one in particular.

There are a few subsidiaries of this company which include “harnessing data to find, engage and convert customers efficiently through digital media.” M&C Saatchi acquired the online media ‘intelligence agency’ Human Digital, whose “innovative approach marries rich behavioural insight with robust metrics.”

There is a whole submerged world of actors making huge profits from data mining and analytics, ‘targeted audience segmentation’, behaviour change techniques, ‘strategic communications and political lobbying, and governments garnering power through paying for these techniques. Much of the PR and lobbying industry is built upon the same territory of interests: financial profit, maintaining power relations and supporting the vested interests of the privileged class. The subterranean operations of the surveillance and persuasion industry and citizen manipulation has become the establishment’s norm, hidden in plain view.

The data mining, analytics and the entire persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

With the exception of the exceptional and dilligent work of Carole Cadwalladr and Channel 4, it’s very clear that the mainstream has largely failed to fulfil its vital role in upholding honesty, brokering facts and upholding our democratic principles, and if we cannot depend on journalistic ethics, democracy is in very deep trouble indeed, not least because of the authoritarian government in office.

 

Related

Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

Facebook fined a mere £500,000 for lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information

Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision making and marketisation of democracy

Nudge and neoliberalism

 


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Facebook fined a mere £500,000 for lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information

Image result for facebook data theft news

Facebook has been been fined for the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica, which broke the law. I can almost hear the echoing laughter around Silicon Valley from my house.

The fine is for two breaches of the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded that Facebook failed to safeguard its users’ information and that it failed to be transparent about how that data was harvested by others. Facebook breached its own rules and failed to make sure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the harvested personal data.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said “Facebook has failed to provide the kind of protections they are required to under the Data Protection Act. Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

Kyle Taylor, director of campaigning group Fair Vote UK said “Under new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws, the ICO could fine Facebook £479m.

Unfortunately, because they had to follow old data protection laws, they were only able to fine them the maximum of £500,000. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Denham said “this is not all about fines,” adding that companies were also worried about their reputation.

She said the impact of behavioural advertising, when it came to elections, was “significant” and called for a code of practice to “fix the system”.

The fine was issued along with scathing report from the ICO, which issued the maximum fine allowable under old data protection laws – £500,000. The social network was accused of failing to protect user data and failing to be transparent about how it shared information with third parties.

The ICO investigation also highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without consent. It was announced that the ICO is expanding its 14-month investigation into data and politics, which has centred on the Facebook data leak, into whether Arron Banks, a major donor to the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, improperly gave pro-Brexit groups data about voters obtained for insurance purposes.

The ICO is also investigating whether Banks’ Eldon Insurance Limited’s call-centre staff used customer databases to make calls on behalf of Leave.EU. The official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is also being investigated over how it collected and shared personal information.

The ICO opened its inquiry in May 2017 “to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns”. Elizabeth Denham,  said the ICO had been “astounded” by the amount of personal data in the possession of Britain’s political parties. (See The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, which details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election. I sent the ICO a copy).

It’s understood that the ICO sent warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree audits of data protection practices, and started a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections – parent company of Cambridge Analytica, after accusing the company of failing to deal properly with a data request.

SCL Elections declared bankruptcy in May, two months after the Observer reported that 50m Facebook profiles had been obtained. Denham said the ICO was examining whether the company’s directors could be still be pursued now that SCL Elections had been placed into administration.

The investigation also found that Aggregate IQ, a Canadian electoral services company, had “significant links” to Cambridge Analytica, Denham said, and “may still retain” data about UK voters; the ICO has filed an enforcement notice against the company to stop processing that data.

Facebook had sought to draw a line under the data privacy scandal after revelations that it allowed data from up to 87m US voters to be harvested and then passed to Cambridge Analytica, a company employed in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Denham said: “We think they broke the principle of fair processing; we think it was unfair processing. Data controllers are supposed to have reasonable safeguards in place to process data and we felt they were deficient in that and in their response on questions and follow up about the data leak.”

“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time. To sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.

“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.

“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”

He said: “This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook.

“If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.”

“We were significantly concerned around the nature of the data that the political parties had access to,” said Steve Wood, the deputy information commissioner, “and we followed the trail to look at the different data brokers who were supplying the political parties.

Responding to the ICO report, Christopher Wylie said: “Months ago, I reported Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the UK authorities.

“Based on that evidence, Facebook is today being issued with the maximum fine allowed under British law.

“Cambridge Analytica, including possibly its directors, will be criminally prosecuted.”

The ICO intends to carry out an audit of the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. The department carries out its own research into social media profiles. The ICO said it had been told of an alleged security breach involving one of the centre’s apps and had additional concerns about its data protection efforts.

The watchdog also calls for the government to introduce a code of practice limiting how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.

They will also make an effort to ensure ex-staff from SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica do not illegally use materials obtained from the business before its collapse

The ICO said it is expected that the next stage of its investigation to be complete by the end of October.

The problem of data mining and psychographic profiling far exceed the revelations about the wrong doings of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Psychological manipulation of citizens by both corporate entities and governments is now the norm. 

The moment that we accept that it is legitimate for governments to ‘influence citizen decision-making’ and impose a ‘behavioural change’ agenda on a non-suspecting, non-consenting public, it becomes a slippery slope from there into a cesspit of private vested interests, one-party states, corporatocracy, tyranny and ultimately, to totalitarian forms of governance.

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal is the first ‘case study’. It’s a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. Mass surveillance, data profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination.

The political integrity and the future of democratic sovereignty has been seriously undermined because of the fundamental erosion of citizens’ right to self determination.  Power imbalances are being created, recreated and amplified via the non-transparency of corporate and political practices, aimed at surveillance, data collection, psychological profiling and psychologically tailored messages, aimed at manipulating citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours, which serves to ultimately profoundly limit the choices available to them.

Image result for cambridge analytica

Related

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

 


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Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires

influence

Media Intelligence Partners’ lobbying aims.

Dark arts.” “Peddling.” “Salacious.” These are just a handful of terms the media has used to describe campaign, ‘corporate research’ and ‘strategic communications’. Even the lighter description “opposition” doesn’t quite capture what companies like Cambridge Analytica do. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a handful of very wealthy individuals – are at the centre of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing, as democracies are increasingly being stage-managed by those who can afford the props and scripts. In a way, it was inevitable that sooner or later, politics would be reduced to branding and ‘market competition’, and that political outcomes would become aligned with neoliberal outcomes. 

Surveillance strategies and targeted marketing also include the use of biometrics. The private company Endless gain, for example, use biometrics and psychology and “to understand human emotions and behaviour, and Psychology to optimise human emotions and behaviour. Our way helps our clients convert more customers, keep them for longer, and have them spend more.” 

Endless Gain claim on their site to “optimise conversions” in the same way that behavioural economists at the Nudge Unit claim to “optimise decision-making”, in their quest to align citizens’ choices with neoliberal outcomes.

The company uses eyetracking, facial expression recognitiongalvanic skin response,  EEG and pupil dilation – biometrics, in addition to conventional psychological research, “bringing together biometric research with findings from decades of academic psychology –particularly on emotional decision-making and the psychology of persuasion – to make changes to your site that increase both revenue and conversions.”  

Other companies, such as the hugely influential Crimson Hexagonuse AI.  The company is based in Boston, Massachusetts and has also a European division in London. Edelman Intelligence, a massive PR company, are a client of this company, as are TwitterThe company’s online data library consists of over 1 trillion posts, and includes documents from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs, forums, and news sites. The company’s ForSight platform is a Twitter Certified Product. (See also: The anti-social public relations of the PR industry, which details the intrusive ‘360 degree’ social media ‘listening’ and monitoring posts used by companies to gather data and intelligence and to formulate ‘strategic communications’ to discredit critics)

This level of surveillance and persuasion is deeply intrusive form of commodification and control that effectively exiles citizens from their own characteristics, perceptions, behaviours and choices, while producing lucrative markets aimed at data mining, behavioural analysis, prediction and modification.

Furthermore, the data collection, analysis and profiling is likely to build in discrimination, reflecting and reinforcing material and power inequalities. Credit reference agencies, insurance companies and the financial sector have previously demonstrated this point only too well. 

The data mining, analytics and persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

Tailored and targeted ‘strategic communications’ and persuasions are based on behaviour modelling and presupposed preferences, which may or may not be accurate or comprehensive. However, such an approach forecloses the possibility of citizens seeing alternative choices and developing new preferences: of accessing a full range of choices, learning and developing. It reduces citizens, commodifying their biology, psychology and decision-making, and transforming human nature into profits for big businesses and maintaining the power of the establishment.

Carole Cadwalladr, writing for the Guardian and Observer, revealed how the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state have been laid in the US and how British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire, Robert Mercer. And how we are in the midst of a massive land and power grab by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested, analysed, profiled and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the erosion of democracy because governments are paying to use these sophisticated techniques of persuasion to unduly influence voters and to maintain a hegemony, amplifying and normalising dominant political narratives that justify neoliberal policies. ‘Behavioural science’ is used on every level of our society, from many policy programmes – it’s become embedded in our institutions – to forms of “expertise”, and through the state’s influence on the mass media, and other social and cultural systems.

It also operates at a subliminal level: it’s embedded in the very language that is being used in political narratives. Repetition is an old propaganda technique that sometimes works. The ‘Strong and Stable’ ideological motif of the government, however, was a tad overused, and led to ridicule because it became so visible as a ill-conceived technique of persuasion. But what about all of the psycholinguistic cues that remain opaque?

The debate should not be about whether or not these methods of citizen ‘conversion’ are wholly effective, because that distracts us from the corrupt intentions behind the use of them, and especially, the implications for citizen autonomy, civil rights and democracy.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has said that British voters in the lead up to the referendum to exit the European Union were duped by the Leave campaign. Speaking to MPs on Tuesday 27 March, the former Cambridge Analytica employee described how pro-Brexit groups like BeLeave used Canadian firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to profile and target online voters with psychologically tailored “strategic communications”, using personal data allegedly gleaned from Facebook. 

“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he said. The revelations and accusations came almost exactly one year before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.

Wylie said AIQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica, a political data company which also stands accused of manipulating voter behaviour to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election. The comments follow separate accusations that the Leave campaign may have also broken electoral laws on spending thresholds, which are capped at £7m. The Leave campaign spent £6.77m but then allegedly received a £625,000 donation from BeLeave, a youth Brexit group. The donation was then spent on AIQ services, in breach of the £7m limit on campaign spending. Wylie also described the spending breach as part of a “common plan” coordinated by the pro-Brexit campaign.

Cambridge Analytica is by no means the only private company that has hugely profited from corrupt methodologies, abominable politicking and the run-up to Brexit. The company is a pioneer in ‘behavioural microtargeting’ – using online data to build up a sophisticated psychological profile of voters, then targeting those individuals with ‘bespoke’ psychologically tailored messages, and the media, with carefully curated narratives that indulge group tendencies – drawn from social psychology and in-depth knowledge of social science –  and social norms to influence political outcomes.

The UK Policy Group

There are many other similar companies which are quietly raising substantial antitrust concerns.

The UK Policy Group, for example, is the UK branch of a notorious US political organisation – Definers Public Affairs – which has worked for Donald Trump’s administration and has aggressively targeted his critics. The company boasts: “What sets us apart is our focus on political-style research, war room media monitoring, political due diligence and rapid response communications.

“We help our clients navigate public affairs challenges, influence media narratives and make informed decisions to disrupt crowded markets.

“The global political, policy and corporate communications landscapes are evolving rapidly. Decision makers need high quality research to make informed decisions and need relevant content to drive the court of public opinion and provide context to shape decisions by policymakers.

“With affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, UK Policy Group employs some of the best communicators, researchers and media analysts as part of our team.”

Former government officials are advising this highly controversial company. The UK company’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, who was the Conservative Party’s director of policy and research. 

Ameet Gill, who was the former director of strategy Number 10 and founder of lobbying company Hanbury Strategyis providing consultancy to the firm. Official documents reveal that David Cameron ’s former director of strategy, Gill, was given permission by parliamentary authorities to accept a contract advising the firm through his political strategy company Hanbury Strategy. Pelham Groom, a company director, was previously head of ‘media monitoring’ for the Conservative Party. Chris Brannigan, Theresa May’s former Director of Government Relations is also a member of the group’s advisory board. Rhiannon Glover is an analyst, formerly, the late duty press officer for the Conservative Party and researcher in the office of Nick Hurd.

The company is also partnered with Trygve Olson, of Viking Strategies, who advised the European People’s Party in the 2009 EU elections and worked as a consultant to the Republican Party in the US.

The company says: “We offer our clients an end-to-end system of research on issues and opponents, monitoring the news cycles, and shaping narratives via rapid rebuttal communications.

UKPG provides our clients with unparalleled campaign-style research as the foundation of driving informed decisions that allow them to shape public opinion, and impact outcomes.”

The company employs people to find damaging information on political rivals. Scrutinising the personal histories, online videos and posts of Labour Party candidates, the company collects dossiers of potential discrediting and smear material to be handed to the Conservative Party. It’s understood that the information is then handed to right-wing websites and newspapers to construct narratives and add a veneer of evidence to negative articles.

The company expansion by US-based company Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion “in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work, using their capacity to influence the national news cycle’ and as a ‘master of opposition research”. 

Ian Lavery MP, Labour Party Chair, said: “I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that in an attempt to deflect from their total lack of direction and policy, the Tories are reduced to digging low and dragging British politics through the gutter, in the desperate hope that they may find some salacious morsel.

“This kind of base mudslinging has no place in British democratic debate, and deflects from the real issues facing people today. It is time that Theresa May stops spending money and effort on these tactics and focuses on policies to improve the lives of those who have suffered because of her government’s heartless policies.”

Brexit

There is a clear danger that the UK, having “taken back control” will simply hand enormous power over to corporate lobbyists who see Brexit as “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to influence the way the UK is governed. Those companies that can influence policies and regulations – such as trade policies, labour laws and environmental regulations – stand to profit hugely.

For those who are worried they won’t, well there are a huge number of think tanks, consultancies and PR companies ready to lobby on their behalf and guide them through the Brexit fallout, all for a hefty sum of post-Brexit private profits. 

In the wake of the EU referendum, many law firms have also created stand alone ‘Brexit’ teams in order to cope with the increasing demand from clients asking how leaving the EU will impact them. Just after the referendum, companies are bringing together existing partners to build out their Brexit teams, mainly composed of individuals with EU/competition, trade and regulatory backgrounds. 

Former government lawyers can earn significantly more money in the private sector. In return, law firms get people with not just the relevant legal skills, but also insider knowledge and connections: people with “a unique understanding of the administrative and political processes across Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels”.

Law firms are hiring politicians, government lawyers and other officials in a bid to position themselves as the go-to people for such advice.

Some of the notable recent moves of government ministers through the revolving  door to private profiteering, are:

Paul Hardy, House of Lords → DLA Piper Senior Director Competition law, International Trade

Andrew Hood, Foreign and Commonwealth Office → Dechert Senior Director International Trade, Government Regulation

Francis Maude, Government → Covington & Burling Senior Advisor International Trade, Regulation

Anthony Parry, HM Treasury → Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Consultant EU Law, International Trade.

Here is a list of ‘go-to’ private companies that are profiting from handing out Brexit advice and lobbying on behalf of big business:

Media Intelligence Partners

Conservative hack Nick Wood, who was once Iain Duncan Smith’s former press aide, set up his own PR consultancy, Media Intelligence Partners in 2004. From 1998 until 2004 he was the Media director for Conservative Party.

However, a break from the Conservatives was absolutely not on the cards for this die-hard Thatcherite. Wood, axed by Michael Howard in 2004, went on to represent Iain Duncan Smith’s think-tank and advised selected Tory parliamentary candidates on PR in the run-up to subsesquent election in 2005.

Wood, who held senior political roles at The Times and Daily Express during a 20-year journalistic career, served under both Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague during one of the most internecine periods in Tory history. 

He has worked with around 50 clients including “prestigious” international think- tanks like the Heritage Foundation and some of the “thought-leaders in UK public policy,” such as the Centre for Social Justice. MIP worked with pro-Brexit Leave means Leave and Economists for Free Trade, formerly called Economists for Brexit. This group has a powerful influence on the media.

Advisors for Economists for Free Trade include Tim Montgomerie, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Owen Paterson, Viscount Ridley and John Longworth, Former Director British Chambers of Commerce, Co-Chairman of Leave Means Leave.

Wood has also worked with major private sector clients including HSBC Bank and eBay. In 2008 he also established the media training and presentation company Pitch-Perfect with Jonathan Haslam, a former Downing Street Press Secretary. 

Media Intelligence Partners (MIP, sometimes MIPPR)) is a London-based PR and lobbying company. The Telegraph reported in 2009 that four Conservative MPs had claimed more than £66,000 in expenses for services provided by the company. Commons rules state that “advice for individual members on self-promotion or PR for individuals or political parties” is banned. However, that didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith claiming more than £11,000 on his office expense account for services between June 2005 and December 2007. 

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow international development secretary, billed the taxpayer for £18,800 for “research and secretarial services” between April 2006 and July 2008. 

Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, claimed almost £20,000 in office expenses for “research” from the consultancy between November 2006 and May last year, while Philip Dunne, another backbencher, claimed for £17,000 for “research and secretarial services”.  

MIP provides services to a number of Brexit lobby groups. As well as being heavily involved in the campaign leading up to the referendum, and Brexit campaigns since, MIP also sells consultancy services to clients.

It says of its ‘Brexit Consultancy’: “MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.”

The company says that during the EU referendum campaign, it “worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers”, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. It says it ‘remains at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.”

MIP were behind the launch Conservatives for Britain, the organisation that lead the Conservative campaign to leave the European Union. The launch appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 7 June 2015. Conservatives for Britain was founded by MP Steve Baker and MEP David Campbell Bannerman and went on to attract the support of over 100 Conservative Party MPs.

Grassroots Out

MIP ran the ‘communications and strategy’ campaign forGrassroots Out in the four months prior to the June 2016 referendum. Four senior MIP employees were seconded to the campaign, directing the press office and providing ‘high-level strategic advice’ to the campaign’s key spokespeople. MIP also managed a nationwide Grassroots Out tour, featuring speeches from Chris GraylingOwen Paterson and Liam Fox. Founded by Conservative MPs Peter BoneTom Pursglove and the Labour MP Kate HoeyGrassroots Out claimed cross-party support, including from MIP, the Brexit Secretary David Davis and Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of UKIP.

Leave Means Leave

Since the EU referendum, MIP has been working with Leave Means Leave “to make sure the instructions of the British people are acted upon”. This has involved MIP communicating with ministers on Leave Means Leave‘s behalf. 

Other Brexit-related work includes MIP undertaking media work for the launch of a joint Centre for Social Justice and Legatum Institute report called 48:52 Healing a Divided Britain in September 2016.

The MIP site says: “We devise effective and strategic media outreach, implementing bespoke public relations campaigns. We help our clients achieve their goals across both traditional platforms and more modern online and social media.

“We have unrivalled experience of the media landscape, from Fleet Street to broadcasters and online media. Our staff have worked at the highest levels of national newspapers and international broadcast organisations and have in-depth knowledge of the media’s editorial processes.”

Wood set up MIP with then former Central Office staffer Penny Mordaunt and Nick Longworth, the broadcast PR specialist also axed in the PR Officers’ cull that ended Wood’s five-plus years running Tory media operations.

Edgar Johnson is a Senior Account Executive at MIP and works on a variety projects ranging from new product and company launches to “bespoke political campaigns.” He also assists with MIP’s digital communications and research services.

Prior to joining MIP, Johnson worked as a researcher for Mark Harper MP in the UK Parliament.

He has “valuable campaigning experience from the 2015 General Election where he wrote election literature, devised social media content and campaigned on the front line across several key marginal seats. This helped to return a full brace of Conservative MPs across his region for the first time in nearly 30 years.”

He was also part of MIP’s team providing communications and strategy for the cross-party Grassroots Out campaign during the 2016 EU referendum. During the campaign, he co-ordinated successful events across the country and managed one of Grassroots Out’s largest rallies featuring current Secretary of State for International Trade, Rt. Hon Liam Fox MP. MIP were paid a total of £42,828.00 for their services.

Brexit Consultancy: the result of years of lobbying for vested interests

MIP say: “The United Kingdom’s historic decision to leave the European Union represents a period of uncertainty and opportunity for Britain’s business community. The consequences for legislation, regulation, tariffs and trade rules are huge – and will affect UK firms operating domestically and internationally.

“MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.

“Our Brexit advisory service is headed up by our Chief Executive, Nick Wood. Before founding MIP in 2004, Nick served as Director of Communications to the Conservative Party, having previously been Chief Political Correspondent for The Times newspaper.

“Nick and our MIP staff were at the heart of a Leave campaign that upset the odds, winning the support of 17.4 million people in the largest democratic exercise in the nation’s history.

“We worked with politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as senior business people and campaigning organisations, to bring about the referendum over a number of years. We then worked intensively for four months of the campaign itself to win a historic victory. 

“During this time, we advised and worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. We remain at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.” (My emphasis)

It then says: “To learn more about how we can help your business capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, please get in touch.”

In February 2017, the Electoral Commission launched an investigation into referendum spending by Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe. Taking a lead from a series of articles, particularly by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer, the Commission began looking at the role of AggregateIQ in the referendum campaign.

The Electoral Commission wrote to Darren Grimes, this time asking him to “please explain why you chose to commission AggregateIQ in particular to undertake the work you reported in your spending return, rather than another company.”

Replying on March 3, Grimes told the Electoral Commission that he decided to spend more than £675,000 with AggregateIQ after volunteering with Vote Leave and watching the US presidential election process. “I attended some Vote Leave Ltd events during the campaign as a volunteer activist and socialised with some members of staff. I asked and was told that AIQ was running Vote Leave’s digital campaign and I also became aware that AIQ had worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, that I was greatly impressed by. I was therefore confident that they could assist us in putting the proposed donation to effect in the time available,” Grimes said in emails to the Electoral Commission.

On 11 May 2018, the Electoral Commission found against Leave.EU, which ran a separate campaign to the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, following its investigations into alleged irregularities during the referendum campaign. It found that Leave.EU had unlawfully overspent at least £77,380 – 10% more than the statutory spending limit – though the real figure “may well have been considerably higher”. 

Additionally, its investigations found that Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received, including “a lack of transparency and incorrect reporting around who provided the loans, the dates the loans were entered into, the repayment date and the interest rate.” Finally, Leave.EU had also failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for “97 payments of over £200, totalling £80,224.”

The Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel complained that the £70,000 fine he was permitted to impose on Leave.EU did not meet the severity of the offences committed by a “key player in the EU referendum”. Further he announced that there was ample evidence of criminal activity from the group campaign chief, Liz Bilney, and that she “knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Leave.EU referendum spending return”. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the police.

Leave.EU’s co-founder, Aaron Banks, has stated that he rejects the outcome of the investigation and will be challenging it in court.

In January 2018, the UK government’s own Brexit analysis was leaked; it showed that UK economic growth would be stunted by 2%-8% for at least 15 years following secession from the EU, depending on the leave scenario. 

The UK continues to learn the hard way that democracy and journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications industry revolution that accelerates the spread of pro-establishment lies, misinformation and dubious claims, commonly called ‘briefings’.

Many observers point to the two major events – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – that signal moments of peril for democracy and the press. Both of these events are linked by a handful of people – Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, for example.

The lobbying industry shapes policies that suit big business and a minority of the population. PR and communications companies are often involved in the circulation of malicious, pro-Conservative ‘strategic communications’ on behalf of those powerful and wealthy enough to benefit from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on private companies every time there is an election or referendum, the resilience of populist propaganda, racism and sexism and the emergence of the so-called post-truth era erodes the fundamental foundations of democracy and corrupts what was once the cornerstone of ethical journalism. 

Conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member. Credit Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images.

 

Related

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

Calibrating Academy- Hubert Huzzah

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

Cambridge Analytica try to dismiss Chris Wylie’s evidence as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘false evidence’

 


 

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Cambridge Analytica try to dismiss Chris Wylie’s evidence as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘false evidence’

Image result for Chris Wylie

Christopher Wylie told a select committee earlier that the pro-Brexit campaign had a “common plan” to use a network of companies to get around election spending laws and said he thought there “could have been a different outcome had there not been, in my view, cheating”.

He added: “It makes me so angry, because a lot of people supported leave because they believe in the application of British law and British sovereignty. And to irrevocably alter the constitutional settlement of this country on fraud is a mutilation of the constitutional settlement of this country.” 

Of course, Vote Leave has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion or deliberate overspending. When they first surfaced over the weekend, Boris Johnson, who fronted the campaign, ranted: “Vote Leave won fair and square – and legally. We are leaving the EU in a year and going global.”

Wylie, who sparked the scandal around alleged misappropriation of Facebook data by his old employer, has also said that its micro-targeting efforts were 10 times more effective that those of rival companies. However, the framing of the debate ought to include the intent that motivates the use of those methods, and the implications for democracy.

Wylie gave his evidence in a four-hour session before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. He made a number of remarkable claims about Brexit and Cambridge Analytica, including that his predecessor, Dan Mursean, died mysteriously in a Kenyan hotel room in 2012 after a contract in the company “turned sour.”

Wylie commented that it was striking that Vote Leave and three other pro-Brexit groups – BeLeave, which targeted students; Veterans for Britain, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – all used the services of the little-known firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to help target voters online. 

Cambridge Analytica have responded:

“Today the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard false information, speculation, and completely unfounded conspiracy theories from a witness regarding Cambridge Analytica.

Chris Wylie has misrepresented himself and the company to the committee, and previously to the news media. He admits himself that what he says is speculation and therefore we feel it is important to set out the actual facts which are as follows.

Chris Wylie was a part-time contractor who left Cambridge Analytica in July 2014 and has no direct knowledge of the company’s work or practices since that date. He was at the company for less than a year, after which he was made the subject of restraining undertakings to prevent his misuse of the company’s intellectual property while attempting to set up his own rival firm. He was not, as he claims, a founder of Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica does not hold any GSR data or any data derived from GSR data. We have never shared the GSR data with Aggregate IQ, Palantir or any other entity. Cambridge Analytica did not use any GSR data in the work that we did for the Donald J. Trump for President campaign. 

Cambridge Analytica subcontracted some digital marketing and software development to Aggregate IQ in 2014 and 2015. The suggestion that Cambridge Analytica was somehow involved in any work done by Aggregate IQ in the 2016 EU referendum is entirely false.

Beyond an early-stage sales pitch to Vote Leave, Cambridge Analytica had no interaction with that group or any of their vendors. We have never had any contact with Eldon Insurance. We played no role in the UK referendum on EU membership.

We are disgusted that Mr Wylie would use the tragic death of a member of our team as a means to further his own agenda. An investigation by Kenyan authorities concluded that there was nothing suspicious about our colleague’s death, and we as a company were deeply saddened by the loss. 

Cambridge Analytica has never worked with or been in contact with Black Cube in any capacity. 

Attempts by Mr Wylie to link a prospective commercial pilot project, for a small number of gas stations in Turkey, with politics and Russia are absurd.

We take allegations of unethical practices in the past by our former global (non-US) political consultancy very seriously, and they are currently the subject of a full and independent investigation which we have instigated to establish the facts. Its findings will be made available in due course.

The facts above also apply to Cambridge Analytica’s affiliate companies.”

CA blag.png

CA and affiliates are now busy trying to discredit some of their own previous claims.

CA’s political research entails “The process of collecting valuable information on voters, opposition, and trends. This provides the fullest possible picture of voter behavior”.

The company describe themselves as “the market leader in the provision of data analytics and behavioral communications for political campaigns, issue groups and commercial enterprises. With cutting-edge technology, pioneering data science, and over 25 years of experience in behavior change, CA provides advertisers with unparalleled insight into their audiences.” 

The normalisation of manipulation and ‘behavioural modification’

Last year, CA were announced as a winner in the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) 2017 David Ogilvy Awards. The company’s campaign “Make America Number One” took the Gold honor in the “big data category” for its “successful work targeting undecided voters during the 2016 presidential election.” (A pro-Trump propaganda campaign using ‘behavioural science’, which was designed from the detailed data that was held, on millions of unsuspecting US citizens). ARF have basically endorsed Cambridge Analytica’s (CA) general corporate practices of data mining and psychographic modeling. 

This indicates just how normalised data mining and behavioural modification techniques have become within the PR/consultation/strategic messaging/advertising industry. As someone on the outside of the industry, it’s only possible to get a glimpse of the methods used, as the language use is  kind of coded, in a context-dependent sort of way – and therefore, operates as a sort of closed system to people who don’t get the references in managementspeak acronyms and behavioural economics. Many sites don’t permit full access to information unless you are one of their members. 

It struck me during Chris Wylie’s commentary about the use of “behavioural science” that his language reflected the central ideas of nudge theories, he was using words like “heuristics”, “cognitive bias” and so on. He outlined the basic premise of nudge, too – the idea that humans are fundamentally ‘irrational’. (Yet curiously, those ‘choice architects’ claiming that they know what is best for society and individual citizens are exempt from that theory).

It resonated with something I said a few years ago: that it was only a matter of time before governments started using nudge to influence citizen voting. It was pretty reasonable, as it turns out, to believe that sooner or later, we were going to see widespread manipulation of people’s decision-making, including in elections.

Back in 2016, Wired wrote an article called 25 GENIUSES WHO ARE CREATING THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS, in which it says: “Alexander Nix wants to turn mad men into psychologists. For too long, he says, demographics and purchasing behavior have been the primary guideposts of the marketing industry, used to guess what a target audience might want. 

“Nix’s company, Cambridge Analytica, can provide psychological profiling to help advertisers tailor their messages to specific personality types.

“The firm groups people according to where they fall on the so-called OCEAN scale, which psychologists use to measure how open, conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, or neurotic they are. Cambridge surveyed hundreds of thousands of people across the US to generate a statistical model to predict these traits in the broader population.

Using Cambridge’s data, marketers combine a key trait with generic demographic information and then craft a message that’s more likely to appeal to that type. So for someone who’s neurotic, the message would play to fears about a subject. Agreeable people, on the other hand, gravitate toward information about how a given product or idea will benefit society.”

Even IPSOS are now defining themselves as a ‘behavioural data group’, the head of the company, Nicolas Brézet, says, earlier this year“Marketers seek a holistic understanding of consumers’ multi-platform digital behavior, touchpoints, activities, and content consumption. Single-source data can’t tell the whole picture, so new approaches are needed.

This presentation discusses how Ipsos combined survey data with behavioral data, found an actionable framework, and then made client recommendation. Case studies illustrate how they used their approach with five different clients.

The presentation also indicates what’s coming next: appending multiple behavioral sources to survey data for an even more holistic, unified picture that can be done today.”

So this is a research and polling company that is gathering data on citizens, including behavioural data, that may will be used by paying clients. Details of citizens’ psychological and behavioural profiles are being sold as a commodity. To anyone who wants them, apparently.

No-one seemed to mind when David Cameron instituted the Nudge Unit back in 2010. Suddenly people were bandying about the phrase “behavioural change” casually.  I was horrified precisely because of what I saw as the dire implications for democracy, back then – techniques of psychological manipulation in the hands of an authoritarian government. What could possibly go right?

Contemporary behavioural science “aims to exploit our irrationalities” since choice architects – which quickly included government ministers – view us “as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents.” Hardly anyone asked back then who was nudging the nudgers. Few questioned that the government really had our “best interests” at heart. 

It’s only now that we are getting a glimpse of new behavioural economics discipline evolving into forms of social control that make the frightful 20th-century totalitarianism regimes seem like a primitive and crude method of governance by comparison. This all-pervasive control is hidden in plain view. It’s a subtle and stealthy form of totalitarianism. Someone described behavioural science and its various applications as a new “cognitive-military complex” – it originated within intelligence and state security agencies – I think that is an apt description.

The consequences of governments acting upon citizens to meet political aims, and to align behaviours with a totalising neoliberal ideology, turns democracy completely on its head. We are left with a form of inverted totalitarianism, or facade democracy, where direct methods of oppression are not required, as citizens are far easier to control and better “nudged” when they continue to believe themselves free and autonomous. 

Opaque and interrelated operations

Aleksandr Kogan founded Global Science Research in 2014, after the Cambridge university’s psychology department quite properly refused to allow him to use its own pool of data for commercial purposes. The data collection that Kogan undertook independent of the university, where he worked as a lecturer, was done on behalf of a military contractor called Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). The company’s election division claims to use “data-driven messaging” as part of “delivering electoral success.” 

The purpose of Kogan’s work was to develop an algorithm for the “national profiling capacity of American citizens” as part of SCL’s work on US elections, according to an internal document signed by an SCL employee describing the research. In 2016, In September 2016, Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, said that the company built a model based on “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans” filling out personality surveys, generating a “model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.” CA, as we know, is a front for SCL.

Lynton Crosby an Jim Messina

Listening to Chris Wylie’s evidence yesterday to the parliamentary committee, I realised that many companies of this ilk (offering PR, data anaysis and segregation, strategic communications, consultancy, behavioural change and ‘conversion’) are probably fronts, shells or opaque partnerships. I researched the Conservatives’ spending on similar companies in the run-up to last year’s general election. Jim Messina, for example, set up a company called Outra, which also employs Lynton Crosby.

The company was hired by the government in the last General Election, along with Messina Inc and the CrosbyTextor Group. You have to wonder what that process is hiding. Outra were paid £120,000.  Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for market research/canvassing. Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services(There is a lot more research into the companies used and 

The company conducts “Targeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”. 

The company also says:MGI.png

The Messina Group are in a ‘strategic partnership with Outra serving as one of Outra’s primary advisors on data, analytics, and ‘customer engagement.’

(See alsoWorld leaders across 5 continents trust TMG with the highest stakes in politics.)

British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending. (I’ve written more about what private data, communication and advertising companies the government used for their election campaign last year, and the costs here. 

Wylie said yesterday: “When you work in a lot of countries, it is beneficial to have different billing names on invoices… the paperwork looks confined”. The companies share their data with each other, too. If one of those companies breaches data laws, technically, they all do, but by listing front companies with different roles, it isolates a potential problem. On the surface, that is. It’s a mafia-styled co-ordinated franchise.

Subcontracting, ‘strategic partnerships’, alliances and front companies hide the dubious processes these companies use, very well. The way the companies are set up and their interconnected relationships is deliberately confusing. The way governments present them in their expenses declarations is also purposefully opaque. Combobulate, which is listed as a management consultancy, earned £43,200 for research/canvassing and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’, yet I could not find any website for the company.

The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting Data. Mason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off .

Wylie said: “AggregateIO was just a money laundering exercise”.

He also said: “You have to remember this is a company that’s gone around the world and undermined democratic institutions in all kinds of countries. They couldn’t care less if their work is compliant because they like to win.”

Money talks, bullshit walks. Welcome to the marketisation of democracy itself.

Wylie continued “It’s not just the data or psyops”, it’s the implications for global democracy.”

However, if it wasn’t for the data mining and psyops, democracy wouldn’t be in such peril. 

From THE BAD BOYS OF BREXIT by Arron Bank, ironically, written with the help of Isabel Oakshott

When asked what Wylie thought the legal implications of a European Company processing raw data on a population at an ISP level were, he basically said that it would be a breech of data protection and privacy laws. Privacy and data protection are part of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in Europe. Being established in Delaware does not exempt you from Data Protection. If Data is processed in Europe then data protection and privacy laws apply. 

Wylie also links SCL to the Home Office Prevent Programme. I bet my entire collection of ‘Behaviourism, theory, practice and how to cover your tracks’ and ‘How tyrants misuse psychology’ that they will be linked to other many Conservative policy programmes too.

You can watch the full parliament evidence session here.

The video below shows a series of some of the key moments.

 

Related

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

Calibrating Academy- Hubert Huzzah

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

 


 

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Ian Blackford confronted the prime minister with links to Cambridge Analytica, but what about the other companies of the same ilk?

 

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage

Theresa May faced questions in the Commons over alleged Conservative Party links to the parent company of the embattled data firm Cambridge Analytica, (CA) the company that has been accused of acquiring and misusing the personal data of millions of Facebook users. Both Facebook and CA deny the allegations.

The prime minister’s comments follow the suspension of CA’s CEO, Alexander Nix, following the allegations that the company harvested personal data from up to 50m Facebook users.

Theresa May insisted that she is unaware of any “current” Government contracts with Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) – the parent company of the CA – or CA.  

It is understood that CA contacted the Conservative Party to discuss and offer their services under David Cameron’s administration, but the party ‘chose not to take the offer any further.’ 

“An approach was made and the party decided not to take that forward,” May’s spokesperson said.

However, here is a photograph (it looks like a selfie) tweeted by the Chairman of the board of the SCL Group, Julian Wheatland, campaigning alongside former Conservative leader David Cameron. 

A photograph of the Chairman of the board of SCL Group, which The Times and The Guardian have reported as being the 'parent company' of Cambridge Analytica, campaigning alongside David Cameron.

“The Conservative Party has never employed Cambridge Analytica, or its parent company, nor used their services,” a party spokesperson said.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, had challenged Theresa May over the Conservative party links to SCL Group –  the parent company of CA. Blackford said the company had been run by a chairman of Oxford Conservative Association.

It’s founding chairman was a former Conservative MP,” he added. “A director appears to have donated over £700,000 to the Tory Party. A former Conservative Party treasurer is  shareholder. 

“We know about the links to the Conservative Party. They go on and on. Will the Prime Minister confirm to the House her Government’s connections to the company?” said Blackford.

However, May replied: “As far as I’m aware the Government has no current contracts with Cambridge Analytica or with the SLC group.”

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the Ministry of Defence had previously had a contract with SCL, but this had ended before the recent allegations came to light. It was between 2014 and 2015.

We are looking across Government to see if there were any other contracts,” said the spokesman. “As the Prime Minister said, we are not aware of any current contracts.”

 

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling

Reports that the government sought the help of CA have resurfaced as the political consultants face growing questions over their citizen surveilance, data harvesting, psychological profiling, strategic communications and targeting, aimed at ‘behaviour change’. 

Conservative chiefs held talks with the company in 2016, according to the Daily Mail. The article, published on December 18, 2016, claims that: “Theresa May wants to deploy an army of computerised ‘mind-readers’ to help her win the next Election, sources claim.”

The source reportedly told the Daily Mail“The Tories have been in talks with these guys for about three months now and I understand they’re close to a deal.” 

It is unclear whether an agreement was reached between the company and the Conservatives at that time. 

However, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee has called for a full investigation into the activities of Cambridge Analytica after it emerged that its parent company, SCL, was granted provisional “List X” status by the Ministry of Defence until 2013, granting it access to secret documents.

SCL group and it’s ‘verticals’

SCL has what they call different “verticals” in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing and overlapping ownership. 

The SCL Group says on its website that it provides “data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organizations worldwide.”

The organisation claims that it has conducted “behavioral change programs” in over 60 countries and its clients have included the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO. SLC Defense is another subsidiary of the umbrella organisation

Labour MP Yvette Cooper said there were serious concerns around the SCL Group and its subsidiary, CA, which is being investigated by the information commissioner. The SCL Group had a close working relationship with the MoD and was paid almost £200,000 for carrying out two separate projects. List X contractors are bound by strict rules over document security, and the MoD insists there was no recorded data breach.

The government team, which included psychologists and analysts, worked with SCL in 2014 to assess how “target audience analysis” could be used by the British government.

Over the course of the project in 2014, MoD officials flagged concerns over SCL’s data management, saying there were “rudimentary security mechanisms” in place.

As part of Project Duco, UK officials assessed SCL’s methods, which included analysing “psychological and anthropological principles” – and the social sciences more generally – and assessing how these could contribute to the government’s ‘strategic communications’.

The company’s ‘target audience analysis’ allows governments or companies to assess how to target individuals with a psychologically tailored message to ‘change behaviour’.

As part of Project Duco, the MoD was given “source background detail” by SCL, which included “analysis processes, data collection plans and sampling strategies”.

Target audience analysis (TAA) is a very controversial approach to government communications that evolved during the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ in Afghanistan.

According to an assessment of the method by Dr Steve Tatham – now a private consultant specialising in ‘Strategic Communication, influence, target audience analysis, and information operations’ after he resigned from the UK’s Armed Forces in July 2014 –  it allows governments to “diagnose the exact groupings that exist within target populations”, leading to a ranking that “depends upon the degree of influence they may have in either promoting or mitigating constructive behaviour”.

It then uses “psycho-social research parameters” in order to “determine how best to change that group’s behaviour”.

According to Statham, the data “builds up a detailed understanding of current behaviour, values, attitudes, beliefs and norms, and examines everything from whether a group feels in control of its life to who they respect and what radio stations they listen to.” He added: “TAA can be undertaken covertly.”

During the work with SCL, the MoD noted that “it was ascertained that some SCL staff are vetted and they have rudimentary security mechanisms in place (eg a locked cabinet).”

The report stated: “It is not thought that they have the capability to handle any electronic material above unclassified not considered the secure dissemination of documents.”

The SCL Group says on its website that it provides “data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organizations worldwide.”

The organisation claims that it has conducted “behavioral change programs” in over 60 countries and its clients have included the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO. SLC Defense is another subsidiary of the umbrella organisation.

A freedom of information request from August 2016, shows that the MOD has twice bought services from SCL in recent years. In 2010/11, the MOD paid £40,000 to SCL for the “provision of external training”. Meanwhile, in 2014/2015, it paid SCL £150,000 for the “procurement of target audience analysis”. July 2017, the SCL website for Cambridge Analytica claimed its methods has been approved by the “UK Ministry of Defence, the US State Department, Sandia and NATO” and carried their logos on its website.

The SCL Group, that advised Nato on so-called “psy-ops”, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  

SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI)Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up Strategic Communication Laboratories and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national communication campaigns for a broad variety of international governments. BDI say: The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI‘s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example.

From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

It’s reported that SCL elections was bought by the billionaire Robert Mercer. He is known to be a heavily invested stakeholder in CA. Before becoming a White House advisor, Steve Bannon was a vice-president and part owner of CA. The Guardian reports that the  firm is owned by the Mercer family and the UK company SCL Elections, which is part of the SCL Group.

To give you a flavour of Mercer’s interests, you only need to follow the money trail: he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute, and he likes to disrupt the mainstream media. In this aim, he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, self-declared “economic nationalist”, fomerly Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist. The money he gives to thMedia Research Center, with its paranoid and authoritarian, anti-progressive mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his pet media projects. He has also worked as vice president of  CA’s board.

Mercer and his family are major donors to Conservative political causes such as Breitbart News. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 political action committee (Super PAC). Around 2012, Mercer reportedly invested $5 million in the SCL Group. Most political campaigns run highly sophisticated micro-targeting efforts to locate voters. However, SCL promised much more, claiming to be able to manipulate voter behaviour through psychographic modeling. This was precisely the kind of work Mercer values.

SCL claimed to be able to formulate complex psychological profiles of voters. These, say the company, would be used to tailor the most persuasive possible message, acting on that voter’s personality traits, hopes or fears.

Of course Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and Brexit in the UK. Mercer donated the services of CA company  to Nigel Farage and UKIP. The company was allegedly able to “advise” and influence Leave.eu through harvesting data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualised persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.eu did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation, contrary to the law which demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. 

When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013, the company hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behaviour, internet activity, and other public and private sources. CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. The company is also trying to change people’s perceptions and behaviours without their consent.The company maintains offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and London.

Cambridge Analytica claim to predict not just peoples’ voting intentions and preferences, but also their personality types. The company is proprietorial about its precise methods, but says large-scale research into personality types, based on hundreds of thousands of interviews with citizens, enables them to chart voters against five main personality types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. 

The President of SLC is Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former Conservative MP and the Defence Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Pattie also co-founded Terrington Management which lists BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin among its clients.

As a UK-registered company, SCL Group had investors from the upper echelons of British Society. Lord Marland, a successful businessman who became a minister in 2010, held shares personally and through two related investment vehicles, Herriot Limited and a family trust.

An MoD spokesman said: “We have no current relationship or contracts with SCL Group, which includes Cambridge Analytica. As such, the company has no access to any classified information.”

The Cambridge Analytica revelations are a symptom of a much darker disease 

I did some research into the Conservatives’ election campaign spending last year. They spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on murky companies that peddle the same methods as Cambridge Analytica and SCL.

While the government’s controversialdark ads’ campaign attracted some concerned commentary last year, in part because it used data and psychographic profiling to manipulate individual traits and characteristics, it seems like no-one is joining the dots, still.

textor

From the Crosby Textor Group site

The government claims that they haven’t used Cambridge Analytica for their election campaigns. However, in 2017, the Conservatives used several similar shadowy private companies that peddle data analytics, psychological profiling and ‘behavioural change’  to research, canvass, advertise and target message voters with ‘strategic communications’ – which also exploit their psychological characteristics.

I trawled through the Conservatives’ campaign expenses listed on the Electoral Commission site to find the following.

The government used Experian (paid £683,636.34), Reed Consultancy  (paid £178,558.03), Google Analytics (paid £1,020,232.17), Facebook (paid £3,177,416.68), Twitter (paid £56,504.32), among others, to research, canvass and advertise their party ‘brand’. And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

Blue Telecoms were paid £375,882.56 for ‘unsolicited material to electors’ and ‘advertising’. It says on their site that Blue Telecoms is a trading name for Direct Market Solutions Ltd. The company director is Sascha Lopez , a businessman who stood as a local council candidate for the Tories in the 2017 local elections. He is also an active director of the Lopez Group, although that company’s accounts are very long overdue, there is an active proposal to strike off on the government’s Companies House page. If directors are late in filing their company accounts, and don’t reply to warnings from Companies House, their company can be struck-off the Companies House register and therefore cease to exist. Other companies he was active in have been liquidated (3) and dissolved (2).

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The investigation uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

● Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

● Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.” 

However, I discovered that the record of funds paid to Blue Telecoms were not listed under ‘market research’, however. They were listed under ‘advertising’ and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. 

(See also: More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy)

Much of the ‘advertising’ was based on data collection, data analytics and psychological profiling, which were used to target people with communications according to their hopes, fears, anxieties, degrees of conformity and other general dispositions. Without their consent.

Another company that the Conservatives used and paid £120,000 for market research and canvassing during their general election campaign is OutraJim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes the notorious Lynton Crosby.

outra.png

Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for market research/canvassing.

Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services. (CRM = ‘Customer Relations Management’ and BI =’Business Information’, which comprises the strategies and technologies used by enterprises for the data analysis of business information.) The company conductsTargeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”. 

The company also says:

MGI.png

(See also: World leaders across 5 continents trust TMG with the highest stakes in politics.)

Combobulate Limited, which is listed as a management consultancyearned £43,200 for research/canvassing and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’.

The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting DataMason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off . However, I couldn’t find an information site for Combobulate, the only site I found bizarrely took me here.

combob

Another similar company, An Abundance Limited, which is listed as a ‘behaviour change agency’, were paid £2,400 for market research and canvassing by the Conservatives in the run-up to the election last year. 

Populus Data Solutions, who say they provide “state of the art data capture”, were paid £196,452 for research/canvasing and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. This company have also developed the use of biometrics – facial coding in particular.

St Ives management services were paid £3,556,030.91, for research/canvasing, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, advertising, overheads and general administration, media and rallies, and manifesto material.

sims
Walker Media Limited are a digital marketing and media company, they facilitate Facebook adverts and campaigns, among other services. They were paid £798,610.21 during the Conservatives’ election campaign. One of their other social media marketing campaigns listed on their site is for “The Outdoor and Hunting Industry”.

Simon Davis serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Walker Media Holdings Limited and Blue 449. Davis served as Managing Director of Walker Media at M&C Saatchi plc, a global PR and advertising company, who have worked for the Conservatives before, designing campaign posters and anti-Labour adverts – including the controversial ‘New Labour, New Danger’ one in particular.

There are a few subsidaries of this company which include “harnessing data to find, engage and convert customers efficiently through digital media.” M&C Saatchi acquired the online media ‘intelligence agency’ Human Digital, whose “innovative approach marries rich behavioural insight with robust metrics.”

There is a whole submerged world of actors making huge profits from data mining and analytics, ‘targeted audience segmentation’, behaviour change techniques, ‘strategic communications and political lobbying. Much of the PR industry is built upon the same territory of interests: financial profit, maintaining power relations and supporting the vested interests of the privileged class. The subterranean operations of the surveillance and persuasion industry and citizen manipulation has become the establishment’s norm, hidden in plain view.

 

Related

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

 


 

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