This can’t be the first time an organisation harmed its own reputation with wild claims.
But Cambridge Analytica seems to have engineered its own destruction with its claim to be able to influence people using data it had accrued about them.
These referred to Americans but it seems they raised questions about the organisation’s role in the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union in 2016.
As a result, the (UK’s) Information Commissioner launched an investigation into the company in 2017 – and it collapsed in 2018.
Were the two events related? If so, it could be argued that Cambridge Analytica’s own boasts destroyed it.
Cambridge Analytica had repeatedly claimed in its marketing material to have “5,000+ data points per individual on 230 million adult Americans”, suggesting it had incredible power to micro-target individuals with suggestive political messaging using a giant psychographic database.
However, the investigation concluded that “based on what we found it appears that this may have been an exaggeration” and much of the company’s activities followed “well recognised processes using commonly available technology”.
So did it attract the unwanted attention of the information regulator needlessly?
Well, it seems the firm wasn’t involved in the EU referendum campaign at all:
[Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner] said she found no evidence that Cambridge Analytica were actively involved in the EU referendum campaign, beyond an early proposal to work with UKIP which was not put into action.
It turns out the Information Commissioner found no evidence of collusion with Russia to influence the referendum either:
[Denham] said her team also found no evidence Cambridge Analytica aided Russian intervention in the UK political process.
Particularly interesting to This Writer, though, was the revelation that
the company’s data protection practices were lax “with little thought for effective security measures”.
Couple this with the following –
Cambridge Analytica founder Alexander Nix was disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years for “offering potentially unethical services to prospective clients” including bribery or honey trap stings, voter disengagement campaigns, obtaining information to discredit political opponents, and spreading information anonymously in political campaigns.
– and we see that the firm (or at least its founder) was quite happy to break the Data Protection Act left, right and centre by obtaining information and then distributing it to the public in breach of the law.
This links with my recent court case against the Labour Party, in which I gave evidence that employees had put together false information about me and passed it to newspapers who then published it to thousands of people.
Labour’s representative tried to claim that, even though the party (as represented by its general secretary) was the data manager responsible for the way the information was used, it was not responsible for the acts of any employees because (as I understand it) there is no evidence that it ordered them to commit those acts.
But then, they wouldn’t have had access to this – false, in my case – information if Labour had not ordered them to compile it.
Put the two cases together and it seems the Data Protection Act is a dead letter – unless a person whose information has been misused can prove exactly who misused it and why they did it. That’s going to be impossible in most cases, isn’t it?
I was therefore hoping to read that the Information Commissioner was bringing recommendations to the government that would strengthen the law.
And I was keen to see what they would be.
I was disappointed. It seems all the information that we are obliged to provide to organisations, just to get on in modern life, is vulnerable to abuse every way you can imagine. Not a happy thought!
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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