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Christopher Wylie: 'Social platforms are no longer safe', says whistleblower – live Bannon wanted 'weapons for a culture war', says Cambridge Analytica whistleblower – live
(35 minutes later)
Grassley just established that Wylie did not work for CA while it was working for Trump, which he acknowledged was true. Cornyn: Mark Zuckerberg kept saying that they don’t sell data, and I said they clearly rent it. How would you characterize it?
We’re moving on to questioning. Everyone gets 5 minutes, but I’m not sure if that’s 5 minutes per witness, or total. Grassley goes first. Wylie: They’ve created a platform that encourages the use of data. It’s true that you can’t go to Facebook and simply buy it, but they make it readily available through network of applications, or the fact that the layout of the profiles make it very conducive to scraping data. They have a setup that catalyzes misuse in my view.
Jamison: New regulations are likely to harm FB users. They would likely serve to protect FB from new competition. Senator John Cornyn: Did CA serve all comers?
Jamison says that Europe’s new GDPR regulations are stifling competition and driving small firms out of Europe. Wylie: That was the impression I got at first, but after Mercer put in money, the only restriction was not to work for Democrats.
Jamison: Each of Facebook’s steps over the years probably made sense at the time, but taken as a whole, there’s a broader problem. Referring back to Black Cube, this is the Israeli company that was reportedly involved in efforts to prevent victims of Harvey Weinstein from speaking publicly, as well as investigations into Obama administration officials who were involved in negotiations with Iran.
Jamison: Facebook has pivoted from being a connector of communities to someone that investigates people’s lives and filters their messages. Whitehouse asks about connection to Palantir.
Now for Jamison who sums up his testimony with three points: Wylie says Palantir staff were involved but in a private capacity.
Using Facebook and other social media data in ways that are not transparent to users is not unusual. Whitehouse: Has SCL worked with Black Cube?
Facebook has allowed itself to drift from serving users to serving advertisers, which is not a regulatory problem. Wylie: There wasn’t a contract with Black Cube, but says there were dealings with former Israeli security services.
New regulations are more likely to benefit Facebook than to rein it in. Next up is Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic senator from Rhode Island.
Wylie: My Facebook ban reveals the unchecked power of technology companies, when they can delete my entire digital presence because I spoke out. Whitehouse is asking about Aggregate IQ and Ripon, the software they created. Wylie describes AIQ as a “franchise” of SCL, though the Canadian firm has contested claims that it is closely related to SCL.
“Social platforms are no longer safe for users.” Lee: Is the use of social media to market different than what we’ve seen in the past?
Wylie: The work of CA is not comparable to other political marketers, because it used rumor, misinformation, and kompromat. Hersh: Just because a campaign spends a lot of money on a kind of ad, doesn’t mean it works. Robocalls don’t work but people still use it. Probably nobody in this room changed their mind because of any ad that was run in the 2016 election. Given that there’s been whistleblowing, there has been no evidence provided of the advertisements actually working. In a presidential election with so much going on, the effect of any one ad is usually zero.
Wylie: I have seen documents where the firm sought to obtain hacked materials. Some of the subjects were heads of state... Lee asks about Kogan’s connection to the Russian team researching the “dark triad” of personality traits. Wylie said that he learned of this directly from Kogan, and then through the Guardian and Observer’s reporting.
Wylie: Data is being used to algorithmically segregate us. Cambridge Analytica is the canary in the coal mine. Lee: How did you learn about CA’s black ops?
Hersh is casting doubt on whether Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic targeting claims. He says campaigns that attempt to predict race of voters are wrong 25% of the time. If campaigns get race wrong a quarter of the time, how can we expect them to predict psychographic traits like neuroticism? Wylie: Alexander Nix told me?
Hersh: “Every election brings exaggerated claims about the technological feats of campaigns.” Lee: Who was involved in them?
Hersh points out that this occurs both because new technology is an easy story for the media, and because political consulting firms need to market their wares. Wylie: My understanding was that in various projects, misappropriated information was used as kompromat against opposition candidates.
Michael Lee, Republican senator from Utah: You took that same data with you upon leaving the company.
Wylie: Most people were contractors or had companies. I received a copy of that data.
Lee: After leaving the company you had a series of meetings with a major campaign to discuss micro-targeting.
Wylie: That’s not true.
Lee: You were going to use that data for something.
Wylie: The data was never used on any commercial project. I didn’t take any data from Cambridge Analytica.
Lee: You didn’t take it because it was already with you?
Wylie: Yes. After I left CA, I continued working on independent projects, but I didn’t use that data on any commercial contract.
Lee: Couldn’t that data have proven useful to you?
Wylie: I could have, but I didn’t use it.
Leahy: How does traditional online marketing compare to what CA did?
Wylie: Traditional marketing doesn’t misappropriate tens of millions of people’s data, and it is not or should not be targeted at people’s mental state like neuroticism and paranoia, or racial biases.
Leahy: Why did the investors think this would work?
Wylie: Steve Bannon believes that politics is downstream from culture. They were seeking out companies to build an arsenal of weapons to fight a culture war.