Yves here. Yet again, Naked Capitalism debunked what we correctly discerned as a seriously overhyped, planted story of a scary miraculous tech black box (an obvious tell was trying to take credit for the Brexit vote). Others took it up as the gospel truth. As usual, we were ahead of the MSM in ferreting out a con. Congrats to Marina!
The Guardian does get some credit for running the article that shredded its own original breathless account.
By Marina Bart (formerly aab) a writer and former public relations consultant, who thinks and writes about many things, including political economy, culture and communication
For those playing Big Data Con Job Bingo at home, this story offers:
- Eton (aka “elite education”)
- Famous for dating a member of the Royal Family (in the US, this square would be for Kennedy/Kissinger connections)
- Attempts to have negative yet accurate information proving lack of credentials suppressed
- Treating actual expertise as fungible widgets
- Scientists so treated as widgets cutting ties, saying the CEO has misrepresented their work – “their work” being the actual foundation for everything Cambridge Analytica claims to do
- James Bond reference (best part: it was basically set design; he apparently never delivered any results in Indonesia at all)
- Meritocratic suckers in governments, the military (NATO!), the aristocracy and among the ultra-wealthy
- Direct evidence that the Cambridge Analytica algorithm can’t even discern gender and orientation correctly from a person’s Facebook data
Some of the most devastating quotes are in the underlying article published on ItalyEurope24. That’s where the one of the two scientists whose work supposedly forms the basis for Cambridge Analytica’s approach says (among other negative things) “But we found that no matter how much we tried to reign him in, he would make all kinds of claims that we felt we could not substantiate, and that is why we stopped working for him.”
In short, the man behind Cambridge Analytica has no background in computing, data science, psychometrics or psychology. The scientists he claimed developed the foundation of the program say he’s a liar who doesn’t know what he’s doing. There is no evidence AT ALL of this program working ANYWHERE to do ANY of the fancy things he is claiming. There is evidence that the program cannot even do the simplest first step towards understanding human beings by processing their Facebook data.
I believe that’s game, set, match.
Right now, Big Data is mostly looking like a Big Con. Facebook, Google and the NSA can certainly do things with your data. Some of those things are bad. Very bad. But much of what we have been told is either currently happening or visibly on the horizon is just smoke and snake oil. That the ruling class is pouring money into this without apparently understanding that they’re being snookered is a real problem. They’re going to use those faulty algorithms to deny people mortgages who should have them, and direct money to people and entities who shouldn’t get it. I shudder to think what our militarized police will do with the inaccurate profiles they will be told are as sound as fingerprinting.
In the meantime, however, we at Naked Capitalism have, once again, been vindicated. When I told Yves what I thought was going on with Cambridge Analytica, she made me explain the underlying evidence and reasoning in much greater detail than what ended up in the piece. (Really, it could have been so much longer…) She didn’t just trust that I was right. She made me prove it. Which I did. That lies at the heart of what is important about this site and this community, and what is going to make it such a source of strength going forward. The truth really is out there, and we can find it. We don’t have to merely wander blind in the smoke and haze of propaganda and elite deceit until we’re led off an unseen cliff into a contaminated sea.
Coming this week: a paradigm of persuasion to add to your critical thinking tool kit.