My favourite book of the year so far: Targeted: My Inside Story of Cambridge Analytica and How Trump, BREXIT, and Facebook Broke Democracy by Brittany Kaiser (who you may recognise from the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack) and who runs DATA (Digital Asset Trade Association) and Own Your Data. This book combines some of my favourite things: technology, psychology, politics, and the consequences for society when these things are combined by people who don't have the best motives.

Targeted by Brittany Kaiser 

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Read an Excerpt

This is a part-memoir, part-expose centred on the time Brittany was the director of Cambridge Analytica (under the SCL Group). You may know about Cambridge Analytica for the way they used a third party Facebook app, thisisyourdigitallife, to get 570 points of data on over 50 million users (and 570 data points on all their friends) based on their psychological OCEAN scores (you can find your scores on Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism here).

These psychological personality profiles (originally used only for academic use) were able to be linked to other data shared on Facebook and offline then used to micro-target Facebook users to personalised adverts in a way that influenced them to vote (for Donald Trump) or not vote (for Hillary Clinton) in the 2016 elections. Brittany explains the reason WHY such micro-targeting ads worked so well.

This personalised advertising campaign on Facebook using personality profiles and linked to Facebook data was funded by Republican hedgefund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who worked closely with Steve Bannon (Trump's key adviser) who supplies the right-wing leaning  Breitbart office where a lot of their meetings took place.

 Cambridge Analytica key players

Brittany is impressive and writes well. She spent a lot of her career working for progressive political campaigns and human rights organizations, and she has degrees in human rights law and international relations. She worked for Cambridge Analytica in the UK and the U.S. for three and a half years before blowing the whistle on their unethical business practices in the global data industry. Brittany believes that data rights are human rights, therefore is focused on using her expertise to advance legislative reform to protect the rights of individuals to control their own digital assets, such as personal data and blockchain tokens.

Here are some quotes from the book:

The bigger a data set that you have, the more polls, the more surveys that you have that people undertake, the more accurate your models are going to be. That's just a fact of data science.

In order to create predictive algorithms, you need to have a training set. So, that training set is created through our quantitative surveys. Those surveys need to include either basic market research questions or basic political polling questions, which might be added to get your opinion on a brand, or an issue, or a candidate.

The work the two teams had done was technically fantastic, but in two days, I had seen nothing less than the darkness I knew existed in politics - the appeals to our basest instincts, the fearmongering, the manipulation, the way we turned against one another, and how I had had no idea... This technology had seemed so benign in the confines of a PowerPoint presentation, and now I could see it had ruined us.

The CA team has studied what it took to "convert" and audience on a given platform. Online, the average number of impressions it took was five to seven, meaning if a viewer saw an ad five to seven times, they were highly likely to click through to the material we wanted them to see

SCL wasn't just about psychographics. It was about gathering information at a number of different levels, not just demographics or situational information, but also sociodynamics e.g., what groups they belonged to, what are their locus of control, whether they believe they control their own destiny. What social networks do they belong to? What power structures? What common enemies do they have and how can we use that to drive behaviour? We look at culture and beliefs and religiosity. But you also ask questions about the individual. We're not interested in what you think about the president. We're interested in you. What are your buttons? We believe that people change people. Not messages. We want the people to do the talking for us.  

CA had the capability of inoculating voters with a small dose of bad news well in advance, so that they would become immune to it when it mattered most, on Election Day.

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(Image from WorldWebForum)

Brittany suggests the following to protect ourselves:

  • Become digitally literate
  • Engage with legislators
  • Help companies make ethical choices
  • Ask regulators to hole abuses of power to account
  • Make ethical decisions in your own digital life

BUY the Book

Read an Excerpt

READ the interview (mentioned in the book) Former Cambridge Analytica exec says she wants lies to stop

READ about when 100, 000 documents were leaked showing the global manipulation from Cambridge Analytica

WATCH The Great Hack trailer:

WATCH this interview with Brittany where she speaks about data privacy and rights:

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Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.

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