back to article Did somebody say Brexit? Cambridge Analytica grilled: Brit MPs' Fake News probe

The daughter of Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt interned at controversial data company Cambridge Analytica, the company’s CEO confirmed today to the UK's Culture Media and Sport select committee. MPs at Westminster, London, were turning Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix upside-down today in the hope that evidence of a …

  1. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Pointing the finger - away.

    "drafted by a slightly overzealous PR consultant..."

    This the same guy who moonlights as the one rogue software engineer at other organisations?

    As to correcting the record on this matter after misreported, no doubt evidence could be furnished of subsequent press releases.... Or not?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

      This the same guy who moonlights as the one rogue software engineer at other organisations?

      "Chuck Findlay, pleased to meet you."*

      *Mines the one with the "Burn Notice" DVD in the side pocket.

      1. Ochib

        Re: This the same guy who moonlights as the one rogue software engineer at other organisations?

        Chuck Finley is the alias of Sam Axe

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          Chuck Finley is the alias of Sam Axe

          No that's the other "Chuck Findlay."

          We are often mistaken.

          See how much responsibility you can avoid with the right choice of sirname?*

          *Some have at least fourteen different versions, making it possible to pass the parcel almost indefinitely.

    2. JimC Silver badge

      Re: slightly overzealous PR consultant...

      To be fair the existence of such is scarcely a surprise. What really ***** me off is when you find said PR consultant has your name in the press against "so and so said" or "so and so commented" in phraseology you'd never want your name associated with. But you can't go issuing denials for your own organisations press releases really can you? Just makes a bad situation worse.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on, they were involved with leave but since it's all kicked off so to speak they are trying to go into hiding till the next elections canard opportunities and even then they won't make this mistake again. What exactly is the purpose of these select committees? Do they have any powers or is just a "look at us we're doing something" scenario?

    1. graeme leggett Silver badge

      A quick looksee suggests that Select Committees can exert a fair bit of pressure, mostly though the 'court of public opinion' to get witnesses to attend hearings. A touch of the 'what have you got to hide' about it perhaps.

      Their opinions are not subject to judicial challenge and there is no redress if for instance a committee produces a report based on evidence given before it to the extent that Business X is a crook, or Politician Y is a charlatan with the effect that X or Y finds their reputation and livelihood ruined.

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "Do they have any powers or is just a "look at us we're doing something" scenario?"

      They try to hold the government to account and investigate things like possible electoral abuses. But in this country we have a democratic election followed by several years of one-party dictatorship before the next one, so their ability to do so is limited.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Select committees have the (theoretical) power to compel attendance - or find you in contempt of Parliament and lock you up. This is not a power they ever use, or even threaten to use. But it is there.

      They're also now a lot more independent than they used to be, as the whips have a lot less influence on who gets on them, and who gets to be chairman.

      But their power is only in calling and grilling witnesses in public and then writing reports that can make headlines. They can make recommendations, but that's as far as it goes.

      Also they're somewhat constrained as to how partisan they can be. In that their report will lose a lot of its "moral force" if a chunk of the committee dissent, and produce a minority report.

      It's a reasonable system, in that it gives a non-government controlled way of running enquiries - and looking at the effectiveness of new legislation after a few years. And often when that's done in a non-partisan way, those conclusions will make their way into amendments to that legislation. It also gives a career path to the more "troublesome" or individual types of MP - if they're a bit too maverick to go the PPS, junior minister route. Which improves the diversity of Parliament and allows those with expertise to have influence without having to join the government and thus vote according to the whip.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Dark side of political campaigning

    If you saw the Channel 4 documentary that 'featured' them, you'd know they are clear 'dark arts' practitioners. Nothing is safe from their data mining. The data they produced probably (IMHO) swung the 2016 election Trump's way with all that advertising that played on the targets weakness and concerns.

    Sadly, that it the way of the future. If I could add an 'Eat This' icon and remain anon then I would.

    {they probably know who I am already}

    It is companies like this that make me hate advertisers even more.

    1. Uffish

      Re: The Dark side of political campaigning

      Yes, ethics don't seem to feature in this companies business and I'm sure they would do as much as they could get away with, or the customer was willing to pay for, but there is one point that puzzles me. Would you even listen to, let alone be influenced by, a cold call from and automatic spieling machine?

      I would like to know because I have an absolute fortune locked up in a Nigerian bank and I am looking for a few investors to help me liberate it.

      1. Cpt Blue Bear

        Re: The Dark side of political campaigning

        "Would you even listen to, let alone be influenced by, a cold call from and automatic spieling machine?"

        That's not what they do, as Mr Nix is basically quoted as saying. What they claim to be able to do is insert advertising that is indistinguishable from actual news into the news feeds (whatever they are) of tightly targeted punters. These messages are carefully crafted to play on the fears and preconceptions of said punters. They are effectively invisible to others, who presumably get their own fears and preconceptions reinforced. This certainly reinforces my preconceptions about Facebook.

        Here in Oz during our Great Gay Marriage Personality Contest and Definitely Not A Plebiscite there actually was a dodgy robocall campaign disguised as a phone poll...

        Now that I've cleared that up for you, I'll be happy to help you liberate your fortune from Nigeria. Just send me 10% to cover costs and I'll get right on it...

      2. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: Ethics don't seem to feature in this companies business

        It's that county to the thouth of Thuffolk, ithn't it?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People are easily manipulated morons...

    ... who like to live in an echo chamber to hear things they already believe, regardless of the truth or facts.

    If course businesses exist to exploit this fact. Advertising and political manipulation of the public has existed for years.

    Now if the public learnt critical thinking, used fact based analysis and were open to changing their opinions based on evidence not their belief or emotion then it would change overnight.

    But like I said - people are morons.

    1. Halcin

      Re: People are easily manipulated morons...

      Now if the public learnt critical thinking

      Don't be silly. Our exulted leaders have made sure that the removal of any critical thinking capabilities is the main function of our state funded education system.

  5. John Crisp

    Smoke & Mirrors

    I'd love to see Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore & Dominic Cummings see if they can actually all tell the same story twice without it changing.

    None of them have been able to do it yet....

    All I have seen from them so far is bluff, smoke, mirrors, contradictions and lies. Exactly like the campaign they ran.

  6. gr00001000

    Cambridge Analytica are relevant to LeaveEU, Darren Grimes is relvant

    A large donation of campaign money was donated to Darren Grimes 'social media campaigner' who passed that money on to Aggregate IQ -- AggregateIQ had just been a short-term “contractor” to Cambridge Analytica.

    Robert Mercer of Cambridge Analytica is good friends with Nigel Farage, who does seem to spend a lot of time in the states these days... with these Trump aides. "Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s communications director, told me that it was Mercer who had directed his company, Cambridge Analytica, to “help” the Leave campaign."

    Cambridge Analytica has data points such as social media, financial, residential, employment and connections on many millions of people. They can target individuals using tracking in browsers as well as social media. They can understand who are vulnerable and target them. They can influence voters with online targeting and media targeting to smear opposition to encourage voters to stay at home. The Guardian has done some top notch investigative journalism on this.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/21/electoral-commission-documents-reveal-more-details-on-vote-leave-donations

  7. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Nix also denied CA was a data miner. “We use large data sets and try and find patterns in that data, and make predictions about audiences. We’re just running algorithms on that data to find meaning in it.”

    Of course you're not data mining. Looking for patterns in large data sets via 'algorithms' is totally not the actual definition of the term.

    Now excuse me, I have to ride my unicorn to work in the magical land of rainbows.

  8. ForthIsNotDead Silver badge

    There is a fascinating Corbett Report podcast on psychographics, and what information can be mined from us, and how they can influence us here. Cambridge Analytica is mentioned throughout. You won't like it.

  9. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Facepalm

    *wah-wah* They started it!

    "I think people are getting upset about it because they need a scapegoat. Back when Obama used similar methods just calling them different names, no liberals were losing their sleep," said Dr Michal Kosinski. "They also did not care when Hillary was spending way more money on personalised political marketing delivered by people way more competent than those working for Trump."

    *rollseyes*

    So, both sides are scummy - we get that.

    When your argument is to return fire against the other "team", it just makes you out to be a (searches for word-of-the-election-seasion) "cuck"

    1. IneptAdept

      Re: *wah-wah* They started it!

      I get what you are saying and agree to an extent....

      But if it is true and that was the case, why wouldn't you be upset that you were being pulled over the coals and the other team wasn't...

      I take it more of a look everyone does it not just us and no one cared when it was the 1st black president or possibly the 1st woman president

      On the Brexit side of things..... Well you either voted to leave or you didnt and your whole view of the situation will be skewed in the way you voted

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *wah-wah* They started it!

        > Well you either voted to leave or you didnt

        Or you voted to remain, or you couldn't vote because you were living (as a Briton) in another country (such as possibly in the EU) or vice-versa, you were a non-British citizen residing in the UK.

        All this to say that the "either" seems a bit misplaced. :-)

      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: *wah-wah* They started it!

        My point wasn't that he's picking "on my team" - more that they assume I have a team in the first place.

        I realise he's talking about America, and in America, the partys are treated as teams, but even then, I think it's insulting to Americans to assume that just because they are picking up one party for ill-doing, that they automatically love the other party, and have no quarms with them doing the same thing.

        His argument is making assumptions about other peoples political morals, and then using those assumptions to basically accuse them of being hypocrites.

        Hence my reaction would be along the lines of "they did it too? go after them too then!"

        A lot of people vote for whichever party/candidate they think is best for them at the time. They may change their minds come next election. The flag-waving-idol-cheering crowds (whether it's Trump, Clinton, or Sanders) doesn't really happen here. Sure, you get the party faithful down at HQ for the TV shots, but for the majority, they realise that who they vote for today will probably screw them tomorrow ! :-)

        I think that attempting to win an argument by deflecting it onto someone they assume you support unconditionally is a weak tactic - especially for someone who presumably has a doctorate.

        cheers

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Refute or repudiate?

    "Nix strongly refuted..."

    Don't you mean repudiated?

  11. airbrush

    Repeating the lie enough times..

    Trump was probably the least honest candidate in history, repeat a lie enough times to the right people and it becomes a 'fact'. Similar with brexit really so there are similarities.

    1. Dr Paul Taylor

      Re: Repeating the lie enough times..

      "Trump was probably the least honest candidate in history"

      There's a lot of competition for that honour!

      Unfortunately, this site is lacking in citations.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Perhaps it just hadn't been all that influential, or useful?"

    Well, since by their own admission they hire crap (pardon, "slightly overzealous") PR people *and* put them in charge of running their very own PR, just how good can they possibly be?

    You wouldn't expect to see a mechanic's car broken down on the side of the road, would you?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks to me

    very much like a run-of-the-mill advertising agency, except run by some old boys who, understandably, try to do a bit of business with their chums.

    Jumping on the so-called "analytics" bandwagon is what every Richard and Harold are doing these days. I bet even your local plumber has the "isogram" script on his website. They just happen to be well-connected, for a definition of well-connected involving populist politicians and various unprincipled types with a bit of money.

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