Tag: Data Analytics

Tories propose nudge, big business AI initiative and ‘personal responsibility’ in place of adequate health care funding

Health spending by govt

A breakdown of spending on health care under each government up to 2016. Under the Major government, we saw a post code lottery of health care provision and patients were left for hours on end in hospital corridors. It’s a grim consideration that the Major government spent rather more on health care than the Conservatives in office since 2010.

Earlier this year, the prime minister was warned that patients being treated within the National Health Service are dying prematurely in hospital corridors, in a letter from A&E chiefs outlining “very serious concerns” about patient safety. 

Sixty-eight senior doctors in charge of some of the busiest accident and emergency departments in England and Wales said safety compromises are becoming “intolerable”. 

The letter includes accounts from frontline A&E doctors, one of whom warned 120 patients a day were being treated in corridors because of a lack of space on wards.

The letter said: “The fact remains that the NHS is severely and chronically underfunded. We have insufficient hospital and community beds and staff of all disciplines especially at the front door to cope with our ageing population’s health needs.”

Other issues raised in the letter, first reported in the Health Service Journal, include patients waiting up to 12 hours for a bed after doctors had decided to admit them, with queues of 50 patients waiting in one emergency department. May said that the cancellation of 55,000 appointments  was “part of the plan” for the NHS last winter, but said of her government’s response “nothing is perfect”.

The National Health Service (NHS) faces significant financial problems in many different areas. It is succeeding in treating more patients than in the past, but this rise in public need for health care, and rising costs coupled with very tight budgets, are translating into widespread pressures on the capacity of staff and managers to keep up with past performance and the standards the service sets itself.” 

Lengthening queues for treatment are happening despite the NHS treating more patients. In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of episodes of care provided in NHS hospitals has been rising. In England, for example, the number of episodes of care overseen by a hospital consultant has risen 11.4% between 2010/11 and 2015/16. It is just that the rise in the treatment provided is not keeping pace with the even faster rise in the number of people coming forward.

At the same time, EnglandScotland and Wales have all started in different ways to look at reducing the provision of treatments that may be deemed of ‘less benefit’ to patients. That means that some people who would have had treatment on the NHS before may not in future. 

This decade health services have seen some of the lowest spending increases in their history. In England, real annual increases are only around 1% a year.

Real terms spending has also been roughly flat per person since 2010 in WalesScotland and Northern Ireland.

This compares to an average increase of nearly 4% over the history of the NHS reflecting the fact that, as the OBR has found, an aging population, new technology and rising wealth all tend to increase health spending in a country.

Matt Hancock, the demedicalisation of illness and the neoliberal psychosocial model

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has called on patients to have greater responsibility for their own health in the launch of new a policy paper entitled Prevention is better than cure which outlines a vision for a “new 21st-century focus on prevention”.

He says he wants to “radically change the focus of health and social care onto prevention”. 

Last month I wrote an article that pre-empted Hancock’s policy paper, published yesterday. I wrote critically about a number of his proposals in Government plans to use your phone and online data to police your lifestyle and predict ‘threats’ to your health.

Hancock has called for an increase in ‘social prescribing’ – refering patients to classes and community groups – in a bid to “shift the balance” away from GPs ‘automatically prescribing drugs for many illnesses.’  socialprescribing

He said in September“The evidence increasingly shows that activities like social clubs, art, ballroom dancing and gardening can be more effective than medicines for some people and I want to see an increase in that sort of social prescribing.” 

In practice, social prescribing means that GPs, nurses and other healthcare practitioners work with patients to identify non-medical opportunities or interventions that will help, improving support and the wider social aspects of their lives. The services that patients can choose from include everything from debt counselling, support groups, allotments and walking clubs, to community cooking classes and one-to-one coaching.

Both evidence and commons sense suggests that social prescribing may be particularly appropriate and beneficial for isolated, marginalised groups. It is a needs-led community provision that supports and enhances psychosocial health and wellbeing. However, Hancock seems to think it may be used as a substitute for medicine. 

The psychosocial approach has already been used to cut the budget for disability welfare support, with some tragic consequences. Now, the same approach in the form of social prescriptions is being proposed to cut the NHS bill. The University of York has already produced research to show that there is little good quality evidence that social prescribing is cost-effective

The Conservative government has made a link between social prescriptions, cost-cutting and (as I deeply suspected) as a mechanism of extending behavioural modification (euphemistically called “nudgingby the government’s team of behavioural economists and decision-making “experts”).

Nesta, who now partly own the government’s Behavioural Insights Team (the Nudge Unit) are of course at the forefront of promoting social prescriptions among medical professionals, firmly linking what is very good idea with very anti-democratic Conservative notions of behaviour change, citizen responsibility and small-state ideology. So, it’s no longer just about helping people to access a wider range of community-based services and support, social prescribing has also places strong emphasis on “encouraging patients to think about how they can take better care of themselves.” 

Nesta may have a whooping ‘cognitive bias’ here. A ‘perverse incentive’. It’s called the ‘profit’ incentive.

The same (bio)psychosocial model has been used to disingenuously trivialise and euphemise serious physical illnesses, implying either a psychosomatic basis or reducing symptoms to nothing more than a presentation of malingering tactics. This ploy has been exploited by medical insurance companies (infamously by Unum Provident in the USA) and government welfare departments keen to limit or deny access to medical, social care and social security payments, and to manufacture ideologically determined outcomes that are not at all in the best interests of patients, invalidating diagnoses, people’s experience and accounts, and the existence of serious medical conditions

Unum was involved in advising the government on making the devastating cuts to disabled people’s support in the UK’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

Hancock said in his speech at the International Association of National Public Health Institutes: “Prevention is also about ensuring people take greater responsibility for managing their own health.

“It’s about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking. Making better choices by limiting alcohol, sugar, salt and fat.”

Hancock claims it is not about “patronising” patients, “It’s about helping them make better choices, giving them all the support we can, because we know taking the tough decisions is never easy.”

“In the UK, we are spending £97bn of public money on treating disease and only £8bn preventing it across the UK”.

“You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.”

public spending

No, the numbers don’t stack up. Approximately 14 billion is spent by the Department of Health on things like public health initiatives (which aim to improve people’s health so they don’t need to use the NHS as often), education, training, and infrastructure (such as IT and building new hospitals). 

The Conservatives said in their 2015 election manifesto they would provide £8 billion in government, and expect another other £22 billion in savings from the NHS. The Nuffield Trust said this still left unanswered questions on funding:

“£8bn is the bare minimum to maintain existing standards of care for a growing and ageing population …

“improving productivity on this scale [£22 billion] would be unprecedented”

The Conservative government followed through on the commitment and then started claiming it was giving £10 billion, providing the NHS what it asked for, and more.

In their 2017 election manifesto, the Conservatives said they would increase NHS spending by at least £8 billion in real terms over the next five years, and increase funding per head of the population for the duration of the parliament.

Last year the think tanks said there would be a £4 billion gap in health spending in 2018/19 alone, but the £1.9 billion provided by the government at the end of last year meant that “around half of the minimum gap we calculated has been filled.”

They said even based on the government’s current spending plans there is likely to be a spending gap of over £20 billion by 2022/23. 

Approximately 44 % of NHS trusts—which provide secondary care to patients who’ve been referred there by a GP—were in the red in 2017/18. The figure was 65% just among acute hospital trusts—which make up the bulk of NHS trusts across England.

Collectively they finished 2017/18 with a deficit of around £960 million.

In this context, social prescriptions are used to maintain the status quo, and are likely to be part of a broader process of responsibility ascription – based on the traditional Conservative maxim of self-help, which is used to prop up fiscal discipline and public funding cuts, the extensive privatisation of public services, defense of private property and privilege, and of course, the free market. The irony of the New Right, neoliberal, paternalistic libertarianism is that the associated policies are not remotely libertarian. They are strongly authoritarian. It’s a government that doesn’t respond to public needs, but rather, it’s one that pre-determines public interests to fit within an ideological framework.

Theresa May has pledged millions of pounds to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to “improve early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease.” In a speech delivered earlier this year, May also called for the industry and charities to “join the NHS in creating algorithms that can predict a patient’s care requirements based on their medical records and lifestyle information.” 

The government believes that early intervention would provide “less invasive, more affordable and more successful care than late intervention,” which they claim “often fails.”  

While the government has assumed that the unmatched size of the NHS’s collection of data makes it ideal for implementing AI, many are concerned about data privacy.

Importantly, May’s proposal would (once again) allow commercial firms to access NHS data for profit.

In April 2018, a £1bn AI sector deal between UK Government and industry was announced, including £300million towards AI research. AI is lauded as having the potential to help address important health challenges, such as meeting the care needs of an ageing population. 

Major technology companies – including Google, Microsoft, and IBM – are investing in the development of AI for healthcare and research. The number of AI start-up companies has also been steadily increasing. There are several UK based companies, some of which have been set up in collaboration with UK universities and hospitals.

Partnerships have already been formed between NHS providers and AI developers such as IBM, DeepMind, Babylon Health and Ultromics. Such partnerships have attracted controversy, and wider concerns about AI have been the focus of several inquiries and initiatives within industry, and medical and policy communities. 

Last year, Sir John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford university, led government-commissioned review. He said that NHS patient records are uniquely suited for driving the development of powerful algorithms that could “transform healthcare” and seed an “entirely new industry” in profitable AI-based diagnostics. 

Bell describes the recent controversy surrounding the Royal Free hospital in London granting Google DeepMind access to 1.6m patient records as the “canary in the coalmine”.

“I heard that story and thought ‘Hang on a minute, who’s going to profit from that?’” he said. 

Bell gave the hypothetical example of using an anonymised data for chest radiographs to develop an algorithm that eliminated the need for chest x-rays from the ‘analytical pathway’.

“That’s worth a fortune,” he said. “All the value is in the data and the data is owned by the UK taxpayer. There has to be really serious thought about protecting those interests as we go forward.”

However, Bell highlighted a “very urgent” need to review how private companies are given access to NHS data and the ownership of algorithms developed using these records.

Hancock, the recently appointed health secretary, is now planning a “radical” and highly invasive system of “predictive prevention”, in which algorithms will use detailed data on citizens to send targeted “healthy living messages” to those flagged as having “propensities to health problems”, such as taking up smoking or becoming obese. 

People’s medical records will be combined with social and smartphone data to predict who will pick up bad habits and stop them getting ill, under radical government proposals. Of course this betrays a fundamnetal assumption of the government: that illness arises because of  bad “lifestyle choices.” 

In the policy paper released yesterday, Hancock says “Prevention means stopping problems from arising in the first place; focusing on keeping people healthy, not just treating them when they become ill. And if they do, it means supporting them to manage their health earlier and more effectively. 

This means giving people the knowledge, skills and confidence to take full control of their lives and their health and social care, and making healthy choices as easy as possible.” 

And: “Last year, over 20 million people used the NHS website. Over the next ten years, digital services will become even more widespread, and the first point of contact for many. The management of health will move out of clinical settings, and into the hands of people. Devices and applications will provide guidance and support around the clock.”

Hancock also said that Public Health England will look at “harnessing digital technology” as a form of “predictive prevention”, potentially leading to targeted health advice for people based on their their location and lifestyle. 

His focus is on “improving health, reducing demand for public services and supporting economic growth.

And: “Predictive prevention will transform public health by harnessing digital technology and personal data – appropriately safeguarded – to prevent people becoming patients. The availability of public data, combined with the existing understanding of wider determinants of health, means we can use digital tools to better identify risks and then help the behaviours of people most in need – before they become patients. 

“Historically, public health has dealt with populations as a whole – a one-size-fits-all approach. The power of predictive prevention comes from enabling people to look at their health in the context of their own life, their own circumstances, and their own behaviour. “

“This means moving beyond a simply clinical view of a body system or disease. It means envisioning a world where everyone can understand their own risks, both in their genetic make-up and from their personal behaviour. We will be able to empower people to make positive changes – and not always in ways we have traditionally thought about.”

Whenever the Conservatives use words like ’empower’, ‘help’ or ‘support’, I worry, because the ideological context of neoliberalism changes the political meaning of these Orwellian Conservative signpost words. Similarly, when Conservatives use the word ‘sustainability’, it is invariably with a view to making catastrophic funding cuts to social safety net provision and wider public services. 

Hancock says more than once: “The ambition is to prevent people becoming patients.”

Inevitably, he came to : “We want to ensure better integration between health and employment support services to help people with health conditions to enter and stay in work. This means ensuring people receive work-related advice and support within the NHS as part of making work a health outcome; on the basis that good work is good for health.” The basis is unverified.

The government conducted a survey in 2011 that showed if people believed that work is good for them, they are less likely to take time off. There is no evidence that demonstrates work is good for health. There is evidence that suggests people who are well enough to work generally do. It is not possible to ‘make’ work ‘a health outcome’. People are either healthy enough to work or they are not. The fact that healthier people work on the whole does not make work ‘good’ for people’s health. Poverty is historically linked with poor health. In work poverty has risen over the last decade. Having a job is no guarantee of escaping poverty or ill health. 

Job coaches are already asking GPs to refer patients to them, and have even suggested that GPs should make sick notes conditional on patients making an appointment with a work coach. 

Hancock’s proposals hint at a plan to extend conditionality in health care. 

Helen Donovan, Professional Lead for Public Health at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We welcome the fact that the Health Secretary is making prevention a priority, and clearly recognises that a focus on public health will keep people healthier for longer and save the NHS money and resources in the long run.

“But Matt Hancock must realise his plans will start at a disadvantage as local authorities struggle with planned cuts to public health budgets of almost four per cent per year until 2021. While it’s clear he sees that prevention isn’t an optional extra, we need to see properly funded, accountable services delivered by a fully staffed nursing workforce backed by adequate resources. Disadvantaged areas emerge worse off without these vital services with life expectancy and the poorest bear the brunt of underinvestment in public health.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “The Tories have imposed swingeing cuts to public health services, slashing vital prevention support such as smoking cessation services, sexual health services, substance misuse services and obesity help.

“In local communities, years of cuts and failed privatisation have resulted in health visitor and school nurse numbers falling, whilst children are losing out on the key early years health interventions they need.

“Many of the aims announced today are laudable but the reality is currently a further £1bn worth of cuts to health services including public health are set to be imposed by this Government next year.”

He added that unless the cuts were reversed, the green paper (planned for next year) would ”be dismissed as a litany of hollow promises”.

Simon Capewell, a professor of public health and policy at Liverpool University, said the minister was right to emphasise the need for effective prevention of epidemics such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

But he added: “We must recognise the huge power of our lived environment, and avoid naively just focusing on ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘individual choices’. People do not ‘choose’ obesity or diabetes or cancer. They have just been overwhelmed by a toxic environment.”

The big drop in the last decade in the number of  UK citizens who smoke showed that firm, consistent government action was the best way to boost public health, Capewell said.

He added: “Mr Hancock can celebrate previous health successes with tobacco control. That success was built not on victim blaming, but on strong tax and regulation policies to reduce the ‘three As’ of tobacco affordability, availability and acceptability.”

Ministers need to take similarly tough action now against “the production of the commodities which harm people’s ill health, including junk food, cheap booze and fixed-odds betting terminals,” he said.

Hancock has of course denied that the government’s austerity programme had an impact on public health. In an interview for the BBC’s Today programme Hancock said: “The biggest impact on your health from the economy is whether or not you have got a job, and there are record numbers of jobs in this country.”

This of course is utter rubbish. If Hancock’s magical thinking was true, health in the UK would have dramatically improved over the last few years in line with ‘record employment levels’. But it hasn’t. The Conservatives are a party that prefers dogma over evidence, ideology over public services and the pseudopsychology of nudge over policies that meet public needs. 

Several health organisations have highlighted that local councils in England have had to cut their public health budgets in recent years, and will do so again next year, because Hancock’s department of health and social care has reduced their grants to divert more money to frontline NHS services. Many local councils have delivered preventative health programmes, but are now finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the statutory services. 

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, heavily criticised Hancock’s remarks. “From telling people to stand up in meetings to now lecturing people about their habits, while cutting £1bn from health services, isn’t a serious plan for improving the health of the nation,” he said.

public spending

Over the weekend Theresa May said the Conservatives “are now the natural party of the NHS” and said the Government was putting the public health system, created 70 years ago, on a path to “prosper for another 70 years and more”. That is most certainly an empirically unverified statement. 

It’s utter rubbish.

Matt Hancock Health secretary at his office

Update
Related  

Demedicalising illness and deprofessionalising healthcare: Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

GPs told to consider making fit notes conditional on patients having appointment with work coach

Government plans to use your phone and online data to police your lifestyle and predict ‘threats’ to your health

Cash for Care: nudging doctors to ration healthcare provision

Rationing and resource gatekeeping in the NHS is the consequence of privatisation

 


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Government plans to use your phone and online data to police your lifestyle and predict ‘threats’ to your health

“Artificial Intelligence in healthcare is currently geared towards improving patient outcomes, aligning the interests of various stakeholders, and reducing healthcare costs.” CB Insights.

healthcare_AI_map_2016_1

The Care.Data scandal

Back in 2014, public concerns rose because drug and insurance companies were able to buy information about patients – including mental health conditions and diseases such as cancer, as well as smoking and drinking habits – from a single English database of medical data that had been created.

Harvested from GP and hospital records, medical data covering the entire population was uploaded to the repository controlled by an arms-length NHS information centre. Never before had the entire medical history of the nation been digitised and stored in one place. Advocates said that sharing data will make medical advances easier and ultimately save lives because it will allow researchers to investigate drug side effects or the performance of hospital surgical units by tracking the impact of interventions on patients. 

However, data protection campaigners warned at the time that individuals were at risk of being identified and claimed notes were often inaccurate. The Department of Health was also criticised for failing to inform people they would be automatically opted into the scheme and would need to fill in a form if they wanted their medical records removed. 

All 26 million households in England were notified about the Care.data scheme, so that individuals could choose to opt out, but many didn’t know they had that choice. Those behind the £50million data-sharing plan said it would “improve healthcare and help medical research.”

Many doctors were so incensed about the failure to protect patients’ data that they opted out their entire surgeries from the database, and the roll-out was eventually aborted in 2014. Privacy experts warned there will be no way for the public to work out who has their medical records or to what use their data will be put. The extracted information contained NHS numbers, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender.

The controversial £7.5 million NHS database (Care.data) was scrapped very quietly on same day as Chilcot Report was released.

Phil Booth of medConfidential – campaigning for medical data privacy – said: “The toxic brand may have ended, but government policy continues to be the widest sharing of every patient’s most private data.” 

Personal data is now used not only to deliver but to deny services, so it’s more important than ever to check what’s on your records.” 

He goes on to say: “Quite apart from the appalling mistreatment of generations of people, the Windrush scandal highlighted two deep problems about government’s handling of personal data. It confirms the government’s default position is one of disbelief – “guilty until proven innocent”, for some groups at least.

And it also confirms that – despite years of experience of the consequences, the government remains utterly cavalier in its stewardship of your data.

From the Home Office hunting people down through their NHS data and their children’s school records, to Google DeepMind’s secret deal intending to feed 1.6 million Royal Free Hospital patient records to its Artificial Intelligence project to Job Centre bosses interfering in medical records, and the Department for Education packaging up students’ personal data for private exploitation – as many have learned, “the power of data” is not always benign. Whether destroying the Windrush generation’s vital records or losing 25 million people’s records in the post, the consequences of poor information handling practices by Departments of the database state are always damaging to citizens.”

He’s right of course. The principle is one of private profits while the public carry the burden of risks every time. 

There is widespread concern over insurance and marketing companies getting access to our personal health data. The bottom line is that patients must have clear information about what happens to their data, how it may be used, and must be given a clearly stated opportunity to opt out.

The ‘business friendly’ government: deja Vu and AI

Theresa May has again pledged millions of pounds to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to “improve early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease.” In a speech delivered earlier this year, May also called for the industry and charities to “join the NHS in creating algorithms that can predict a patient’s care requirements based on their medical records and lifestyle information.” 

The government believes that early intervention would provide “less invasive, more affordable and more successful care than late intervention,” which they claim “often fails.”  

While the government has assumed that the unmatched size of the NHS’s collection of data makes it ideal for implementing AI, many are concerned about data privacy.

Importantly, May’s proposal would once again allow commercial firms to access NHS data for profit.

In April 2018, a £1bn AI sector deal between UK Government and industry was announced, including £300million towards AI research. AI is lauded as having the potential to help address important health challenges, such as meeting the care needs of an ageing population. 

Major technology companies – including Google, Microsoft, and IBM – are investing in the development of AI for healthcare and research. The number of AI start-up companies has also been steadily increasing. There are several UK based companies, some of which have been set up in collaboration with UK universities and hospitals.

Partnerships have been formed between NHS providers and AI developers such as IBM, DeepMind, Babylon Health, and Ultromics. Such partnerships have attracted controversy and wider concerns about AI have been the focus of several inquiries and initiatives within industry, and medical and policy communities. 

Last year, Sir John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford university, led a government-commissioned review. He said that NHS patient records are uniquely suited for driving the development of powerful algorithms that could “transform healthcare” and seed an “entirely new industry” in profitable AI-based diagnostics. 

Bell describes the recent controversy surrounding the Royal Free hospital in London granting Google DeepMind access to 1.6m patient records as the “canary in the coalmine”. “I heard that story and thought ‘Hang on a minute, who’s going to profit from that?’” he said.

Bell gave the hypothetical example of using an anonymised data for chest radiographs to develop an algorithm that eliminated the need for chest x-rays from the ‘analytical pathway’.

“That’s worth a fortune,” he said. “All the value is in the data and the data is owned by the UK taxpayer. There has to be really serious thought about protecting those interests as we go forward.”

However, Bell highlighted a “very urgent” need to review how private companies are given access to NHS data and the ownership of algorithms developed using these records.

Matt Hancock, the recently appointed health secretary, is now planning a “radical” and highly invasive system of “predictive prevention”, in which algorithms will use detailed data on citizens to send targeted “healthy living messages” to those flagged as having “propensities to health problems”, such as taking up smoking or becoming obese. 

Despite promises to safeguard data, the plans have already once again attracted privacy concerns among doctors and campaigners, who say that the project risks backfiring by scaring people or damaging public trust in NHS handling of sensitive information. People’s medical records will be combined with social and smartphone data to predict who will pick up bad habits and stop them getting ill, under radical government proposals. Of course this betrays a fundamnetal assumption of the government: that illness arises because of  bad “lifestyle choices.” 

Hancock said: “So far through history public health has essentially dealt with populations as a whole.

“The anti-smoking campaign on TV is targeted at everybody. But using data, both medical data — appropriately safeguarded, of course, for privacy reasons — and using other demographic data, you can work out that somebody might have a higher propensity to smoke and then you can target interventions much more closely.”

However, the historical evidence of the government “safeguarding” our data effectively isn’t particularly confidence-inspiring.

Public Health England is already looking at using demographic and smartphone health data to personalise messages on healthy living and plans to launch pilot projects next year.

Initially the data will be limited to broad categories, such as age or postcode. Ultimately, however, including detailed information on individual housing, employment and income or people’s internet use has not been ruled out. 

Hancock said: “We are now exploring digital services that will use information people choose to share, based on consent with only the highest standards on data privacy, to offer them precise and targeted health advice.”

Advice from whom? Unum and other private insurance companies? Businesses selling life style products? The pharma industry? Many campaigners are very concerned that the use of their data may lead to them being discriminated against by insurers or in the workplace.

Concerns

Another concern is how intrusive surveilance and data analytics is and how it may dehumanise patients. One NHS suicide prevention app, for example, that is currently in development, will monitor emails, texts and social media for signs that “people might be about to kill themselves.”

“Technology now allows us to offer people predictive prevention; tailored, intelligent advice on how to live longer, healthier lives,” Hancock said. 

“This used to happen within the brains of the GPs in the partnership when they really knew the community and had personal relationships with everyone in the community. As GPs’ practices have come under more pressure, that’s become harder and we can use data really effectively to target people who have propensities to health problems.”

Another danger is the ongoing demedicalisation of illness and the deprofessionalisation of trained doctors. Healthcare professionals may feel that their autonomy and authority is threatened if their expertise is challenged by AI. The ethical obligations of healthcare professionals towards individual patients might be affected by the use of AI decision support systems, given these might be guided by other priorities or interests, such as political ideology regarding cost efficiency or wider public health concerns.

AI systems could also have a negative impact on individual autonomy. For example, if they restrict choices based on calculations about risk or what is in the best interests of the user.

If AI systems are used to make a diagnosis or devise a treatment plan, but the healthcare professional is unable to explain how these were arrived at, this could also be seen as restricting the patient’s right to make free, informed decisions about their health. Applications that aim to imitate a human professional raise the possibility that the user will be unable to judge whether they are communicating with a real person or with technology.  

Although AI applications have the broad potential to reduce human bias and error, they can also reflect and reinforce biases in the data used to train them. Concerns have been raised about the potential of AI to lead to discrimination in ways that may be hidden or which may not align with legally protected characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, disability, and age. 

The House of Lords Select Committee on AI has cautioned that datasets used to train AI systems are often poorly representative of the wider population and, as a result, could make unfair decisions that reflect wider prejudices in society. The Committee also found that biases can be embedded in the algorithms themselves, reflecting the beliefs and prejudices of AI developers.

Sam Smith, of the privacy group medconfidential, warned that a “ham-fisted” plan might backfire, given the government’s poor record on data-handing. He said: “Predictive intervention has to be done carefully and in the right context and with great empathy and care, as it’s easy to just look creepy and end up with a ‘Mark Zuckerberg problem’ [where a focus on the power of data leads to a neglect of the human problems it is trying to solve].”

Humans have attributes that AI systems might not be able to authentically possess, such as compassion and empathy. Clinical practice often involves very complex judgments and abilities that AI currently is unable to replicate, such as contexual knowledge (such as existing comorbidities) and and the ability to read social cues. There is also debate about whether some human knowledge is tacit and cannot be taught.

AI could also be used for malicious purposes. For example, there are fears that AI could be used for covert surveillance or screening by private companies and others. AI technologies that analyse motor behaviour, (such as the way someone types on a keyboard), and mobility patterns detected by tracking smartphones, could reveal information about a person’s health without their knowledge. 

Today it’s reported that NHS Digital is set to ignore the IT security recommendations of its own chief information officer, Will Smart, citing the estimated cost of between £800 million and £1 billion. It claims that the investment would not be “value for money”.

The recommendations were the result of a review, published in February, that was commissioned by government in response to the WannaCry ransomware attack, which affected one-fifth of all NHS trusts in the UK. The NHS was especially hard hit, not least due to a lack of up-to-date patching on Windows 7 workstations across the monolithic organisation, one of the biggest employers in the world.

The recommendations in Smart’s review had been endorsed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

However, documents acquired under Freedom of Information by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), indicate that NHS Digital has opposed adoption of the recommendations on the grounds that they would not “be value for money”. 

NHS Digital’s response comes despite the organisation coming under sustained and continual cyber attacks, including one called Orangeworm that specifically targets sensitive healthcare data. HSJ adds that malicious phishing websites mimicking NHS trusts have also been found, while one NHS organisation was found to have exposed a sensitive database online.

A scan by NHS Digital, it adds, found 227 medical devices connected to the internet with a known vulnerability. And four out of five NHS trusts failed to even respond to a ‘high severity’ cyber alert issued in April.

The review of NHS IT security by CIO Will Smart came four months aftea damning report into the state of NHS IT security produced by the National Audit Office, which indicated that the NHS and Department of Health didn’t know how to respond to the outbreak.

With such a cavalier approach to basic IT security, it’s difficult to imagine how we can possibly trust the ‘business-friendly’ government and NHS with the stewardship of our personal health data. Personal data has become the currency by which society does business, but advances in technology should not mean organisations racing ahead of people’s basic rights. Individuals should be the ones in control and government and private organisations alike must do better to demonstrate their accountability to the public.

The use of AI in surgery

DA-VINCI-ROBOT

The Da Vinci surgicalrobot 

An inquest heard recently heard how a patient who underwent ”pioneering’ robotic heart valve surgery at the Freeman hospital in Newcastle died days later after the procedure went horribly wrong. 

Stephen Pettitt died because of multiple organ failure, yet it was expected that he was 98-99% chance of surviving the relatively low risk surgerical procedure.

Heart surgeon Sukumaran Nair had been offered training on the use of the robot with the hospital’s gynaecology department – but he refused.

He told a colleague later he could have done more “dry-run” training beforehand, the hearing heard.

The operation was planned to repair a mitral valve but damage was caused by the robot to the interatrial septum. The procedure had to be converted to an open heart operation where the chest was opened up to repair the tear.

Pathologist Nigel Cooper said: “By that time the operation had been going on for a considerable period of time. By the end of the surgery the heart was functioning very poorly.”

Medicines and a machine to help the heart function were brought in but Pettitt’s organs began to shut down and he didn’t recover.

The robot was so loud in use that the surgical team were shouting at one another and the same machine knocked a theatre nurse and destroyed the patient’s stitches, the Newcastle Coroner’s Court heard.

A leading heart surgeon, Professor David Anderson, told Newcastle Coroner’s Court the operation conducted by under-trained Sukumaran Nair, using the Da Vinci surgical robot, would not likely have ended that way had the robot not been used.

Anderson, a consultant cardiac surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital, London, told the Newcastle hearing that Pettitt’s euroSCORE – the risk factor applied to heart surgery patients – was just 1-2% in normal circumstances.

Such was the concern at the completely botched six-hour-long procedure performed on Stephen Pettitt, that Northumbria police have launched a criminal inquiry.

Nair was fired from his job at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital and their robotics heart programme ended. Newcastle coroner Karen Dilks recorded a narrative verdict into the retired music teacher’s death.

According to the US company behind the botched procedure, Intuitive Surgical Inc, “The surgeon is 100% in control of the da Vinci System at all times.”

However, there can be “serious complications and death” in any surgery, according to the business.

Risks during surgery include inadvertent cuts, tears, punctures, burns or injury to organs.

Don’t those stated risks negate the justification for using robotics to perform surgery – increased, not decreased, precision?

The company add: “It is advised the surgeon switch from minimally invasive surgery to open surgery (through a large incision) or hand-assisted surgery if problems occur.”

Related

Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and research

GPrX – the company that sells NHS data to sales teams for pharma industry can market products and target the prescribers 

 


 

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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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YouGov, an antidemocratic survey question and a brief investigation

SameDifference reports being deeply upset by this question from YouGov, today.

Firstly, all of these questions reflect a very cavalier and authoritarian view of the democratic rights of citizens. Excluding people from voting on the basis of their characteristics and the group they belong to violates their human rights. We do need to question why this subject is being surveyed, who will use the information gathered, and to what purpose. Secondly, the questions themselves normalise a view that repressing the right to participate in democracy for  some social groups is somehow acceptable.

Last year I wrote about how polls serve as a propaganda technique, by encouraging a bandwaggon effect, and sometimes act as self fulfilling prophesies of sorts. 

Image result for Peter Hitchens polls

And that’s from a Conservative

The question about people who ‘receive more money from welfare benefits than they pay in taxes” is particularly worrying. Many people claiming welfare currently need welfare support because of exploitatively low pay. People on low pay pay low rates of income tax. Also the question assumes that people’s circumstances are static, and seems to disregard previous tax contribution through previous employment. It also disregards the reasons why someone may be claiming welfare support – for example, because of disability or illness. It looks like Conservative kite flying, to me.

I decided to join YouGov. I was asked some initial questions such as whether or not my workspace is tidy or chaotic, if I arrive at events early or late, if I’m a ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ person, and about how I vote, which news papers I read and so on.

All of which will be used to “segment” and psychologically profile me. YouGov Profiles is the “media planning and audience segmentation tool for brands and their agencies. Powered by the world’s largest connected data set. YouGov Profiles gives marketers a richer, more detailed portrait of their customers’ entire lives.”

It is powered by our connected data vault, which holds over 190,000 data points, collected from 275,000 GB YouGov members.

Get the profile of your target audience across multi-channel data sets with greater granularity and accuracy than ever before.”

And also: “By using advanced techniques we can go beyond merely describing the data, we can begin to explain and even predict attitudes, behaviours and harder business outcomes. These explanations and predictions can help our clients to adapt their strategy, both internally and externally, and create informed decisions about their products/policies and how they approach their marketing, communications and people strategies.”

And: “YouGov helps PR clients gain maximum coverage for their campaigns everyday, and as the most quoted market research agency in the UK, we are able to offer clients the best possible chance of generating headlines and gaining media visibility.”

We also run bespoke services including Reputation Audits, thought leadership B2B studies, and Nation Branding projects, global or local.”

YouGov says its ad platform, YouGov Direct, will allow advertisers to use its audience data to target consumers more accurately and transparently. YouGov has made its name with political polling at general elections and selling data and analytics to ‘brands’ but has had little direct involvement in advertising until recently. (See YouGov eyes media budgets as it launches advertising data platform).

More about YouGov

YouGov is an international internet-based market research and data analytics company, headquartered in the UK, with operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Shakespeare, the firm’s CEO, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. Shakespeare has been YouGov’s Chief Executive Officer since 2010. 

Roger Parry has been YouGov’s Chairman since 2007. Political commentator Peter Kellner was YouGov’s President until he stepped down in 2016. Formerly the political analyst of the BBC Newsnight current affairs programme, Kellner was engaged by YouGov’s founders, Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi, in December 2001. When YouGov floated for £18 million in April 2005, Kellner owned 6% of the company.

In 2012, Shakespeare was appointed as Chairman of the Data Strategy Board (DSB), the advisory body that was set up by the government to maximise value of data for ‘users across the UK’. He is the former owner of the websites ConservativeHome (now owned by Lord Ashcroft) and PoliticsHome (now owned by Dods Parliamentary Communications Ltd) which he launched in April 2008 after closing down his Internet television channel 18 Doughty Street.

Nadhim Zahawi is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, after the retirement of previous MP John Maples.

YouGov has a Reputation Research practice which runs studies for governments, regulators, blue chip multinationals, NGOs and trade associations around the world, supporting clients in their reputation management and reputation development work.

YouGov combines research with ‘consulting and PR/public affairs’. The site describes YouGov as an international data and analytics group.  The site says: “We combine this continuous stream of data with our deep research expertise and broad industry experience into a systematic research and marketing platform.”

Our suite of syndicated, proprietary data products includes YouGov BrandIndex, the daily brand perception tracker, and YouGov Profiles, our planning and segmentation tool. Our market-leading YouGov Omnibus provides a fast and cost-effective service for obtaining answers to research questions from both national and selected samples. Our custom research service offers a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research, tailored by our specialist teams to meet our clients’ specific requirements.

With 30 offices in 20 countries and panel members in 38 countries, YouGov has one of the world’s top ten international market research networks.”

Summary of strategy: “A key objective for the Group is to increase the proportion of revenue from data products and services and bring these to parity with custom research. We are focusing on growing revenue from our core product suite across all our existing geographies. This involves bringing to market new products, as well as continuing to innovate with new products. In addition to making targeted investments in growing and expanding our syndicated data products and services suite, we are also continuing to explore opportunities to expand our core model geographically.”

On YouGov’s cookie page, it says they use cookies: “to monitor, and permit third parties to monitor the effectiveness of advertising campaigns; and to enable us, and third parties, to create target segments for advertising purposes.”

So, a good question to ask is this: Whose interests are YouGov actually serving?

More on the cookie page: “By continuing to use the Site and/or by accepting our Terms and Conditions of Use and ouPrivacy Policy, you are agreeing to the use of such cookies and tracking technology.

The company also uses Meltwater, which is a software that develops and markets media monitoring and business intelligence software

I tried in vain to find YouGov’s privacy policy. The link above just takes you here:

yougovThe homepage link takes you to YouGov’s Malaysia site

Related

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

 


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