Remain Campaigners Are Massively Outspending Leave Campaigners on Facebook

New spending figures released by Facebook have revealed that since October the top five anti-Brexit lobby groups have spent 60% more than than the top pro-Brexit groups. Anti-Brexit campaigners have spent over £711,000 promoting targeted anti-Brexit messages…

Despite this figure dwarfing the £444,000 spent by the top pro-Brexit campaigners, there have been little to no media reports about scale or source of these funds, or the motives of those bankrolling it. Disconcertingly, the anti-Brexit groups have also ran £37,926 worth of Facebook ads without a disclaimer, further undermining the accountability of the anti-Brexit lobby. Where’s Carole Cadwalladr on this..?

The biggest spending anti-Brexit groups according to Facebook spending data were…

The biggest spending pro-Brexit groups according to Facebook spending data were…

The hysterical noise around pro-Leave groups in the left wing media is totally unjustified…

Porn Laws Catch Public With Their Pants Down

New polling by YouGov has revealed that a whopping 76% of the public are completely unaware of the tossing tax, set to come into force in just two weeks time. This massive Government power grab is going to catch people completely unawares…

Disconcertingly, the majority of people who watch porn “most days” do not know about the policy and could end up in a sticky situation as prime targets of countless fraudsters asking for their credit card details amongst the confusion. People may then be too embarrassed to report the scammers…

When told about it, people who watch porn at least once a week oppose it by 56% to 38%. A majority of 18-24 year olds oppose the policy, although this flips as respondents get older, with three quarters of pensioners supporting the policy. Those who are most supportive of the tossing tax are the people who didn’t grow up with the internet…

Theresa May’s Tossing Tax

Amongst the Brexit drama it’s easy to miss that an extraordinary anti-freedom, anti-personal responsibility set of regulations under the Digital Economy Act come into full force next month. From April, any internet service will face fines and consequences if pornographic material can be accessed on them by anyone under the age of 18. This means if anyone wants to watch porn in the UK, they will have to do one of three things…

  1. Give your credit card details to a government approved company
  2. Buy a Government approved porn pass from a newsagent for £8.99
  3. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

This means that anyone under the age of 18 will not be able to access pornography safely. Teenagers will have to either nick their parents credit cards, get an older person to buy a porn pass for them, or download the kind of VPN software used by dissidents living under authoritarian regimes, drug dealers, and child pornographers. Sexting will undoubtedly rise, with a ban making it easier for teenagers to send explicit pictures to each other than finding some on the internet, raising a swathe of new child safety concerns. Any politician thinking teenagers simply won’t watch porn is living in a fantasy world…

The consequences for platforms like Twitter or Reddit, some users of which post pornographic content, are disconcertingly ambiguous. When this has happened on some sites in the past, indiscriminate crack downs have accidentally hit vital resources for struggling teens, particularly LGBT services…

Quite apart from the child safety concerns, adults will also be driven to VPN use and the dark web audience will massively expand. People will be rightly concerned about handing over credit card details to porn companies’ age verification checkers. The leading age verification service, AgeID, is owned by the company that also owns PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube. Creating an enormous database of literally millions of credit card details linked to pornographic preferences. What could possibly go wrong..?

Having to humiliatingly purchase a government approved ‘porn licence’ is the kind of nonsense Guido would expect from an authoritarian regime. Instead of sheepishly shuffling in to a newsagents to hand over their £9 ‘Tossing Tax’, less technologically savvy adults will inevitably stumble into giving out their credit card details to nefarious actors, or downloading viruses instead of legitimate VPNs. This legislation is a fraudster’s dream…

The electoral implications will be bigger than politicians realise. The Tories suffered huge consequences from younger voters over fox hunting. Thanks to the prudish cowardice of most MPs, there hasn’t been a big uproar over this egregiously draconian legislation yet. But self reported polls suggest that three quarters of men admit to watching porn and the true number is likely to be higher. If politicians are brave enough there could be huge electoral mileage in a campaign to Repeal the Porn Laws…

Not the Sharpest MP

Scott Mann, the Tory MP for North Cornwall, has come out with an interesting solution to the knife crisis, put a GPS tracker in the handle of every knife and put knife owners in a national database. So that is every household in the country- well apart possibly from Scott Mann’s. He shouldn’t be allowed sharp instruments…

Twitter Bars Suzanne Evans For Saying Trans Woman Wasn’t ‘Ladylike’

Twitter has decided to bar Suzanne Evans from the platform after she sent a tweet about a Newsnight interview she had done in 2016 with trans woman Paris Lees, saying that Lees had been “unbelievably nasty and aggressive” and “Dare I say it, not the slightest bit ‘ladylike.'”

Owen Jones organised a pile-on, which resulted in Twitter decreeing that Suzanne’s tweet had violated their definition of “hateful conduct” and locking her account temporarily, with a warning that she could be permanently suspended if she violated their rules again.

Whatever anyone’s views on the trans debate, it is deeply troubling that Twitter saw fit to bar Evans from the site over what is at worst an insensitive comment, particularly given the cesspit of genuinely violent and threatening abuse which goes ignored on a daily basis. It’s yet another incident in the highly pernicious trend of free speech being suppressed and people being highly selectively barred from public platforms simply for saying things that hurt other people’s feelings…

Ericsson Boss: Europe Falling Behind on 5G Thanks to “Heavy Regulation”

The CEO of Ericsson, Börje Ekholm, has warned that Europe risks falling behind the rest of the world in 5G roll-out due to “heavy regulation”. Speaking to the Mobile World Congress on Monday, Ekholm said “It’s a very heavily regulated sector, so overall the investment climate I think is the key reason why we have been slow.”

An authoritative Ericsson company report has predicted that North America and northeast Asia will be the fastest to take up 5G and roll out the new technology. Brexit gives the UK an opportunity to leave sluggish Europe and its overregulatory debilitating habits behind… 

Head of Google’s Hiring Tool Calls UK ‘Very, Very Attractive Market’

The head of Google’s new recruitment tool ‘Hire by Google’ has said that the UK is “an attractive market, obviously, for everybody” and that Brexit did not change his decision to launch the product in the UK. Dmitri Krakovsky, a Vice President at Google (the world’s second most valuable company), said at the launch of the new product that “the UK is no doubt a very, very attractive market for us.” All despite Brexit…

Damian Collins Calls For End to Internet Freedom

Damian Collins’ committee has this morning published its report into “Disinformation and ‘fake news’” and off the bat it is a full-on onslaught of new heavy-handed regulations that could herald the end of a free and open internet.

The report recommends that tech companies cease to be seen as platforms, and shift to being seen much more as publishers, establishing a new Government written “Code of Ethics” overseen by yet another new quango given “statutory powers to monitor relevant tech companies”:

“tech companies assume legal liability for content identified as harmful after it has been posted by users”

Calling to end platform neutral status for internet companies would end social media as we know it. If Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other user-centred host of content became classified as publishers, why would any company allow anything to be posted without central approval first? Doing anything else would leave that company legally liable for whatever its users posted on the site…

Publisher status would necessitate pre-approval by legal teams for everything that was posted, so that companies would avoid getting sued. A precautionary principle would have to be adopted – we would end up with a small group of out-of-touch politicians and technocrats deciding what is acceptable to say on the internet. In reality this would lead to a mass exodus of global companies from the UK…

The UK is home to more tech companies than anywhere else in Europe. There is a tech boom of new startups and more ‘tech unicorn’ billion dollar valued companies than anywhere else in Europe. Collins’ hugely misguided plans would destroy all of that if they were ever implemented…

Jeremy Wright Threatens Social Media Companies

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright makes it clear that the Government will be pressing ahead with heavy-handed knee-jerk regulation of social media companies, bolshily insisting “I’m not asking their permission”. Has Gavin Williamson been coaching him on rhetoric?

There is an important debate to be had about the role of social media in society. Whipping up fears about public “safety” and ramming through poorly thought-out regulations is not the way to do it.

Tech Problems Leave Tory Staff With Nothing To Do

Conservative parliamentary staffers are stuck in a rut as two key online services for Conservative MPs’ staff are down. The Policy Research Unit, which produces research and recommended responses for questions about policy, as well as Cross Reference, which allows Conservative staffers to check if someone contacting their office is genuinely a constituent, have been out of service since Monday. One amused caseworker told Guido “It’s great, we cant do work as we can’t check people are constituents!” Really?

UPDATE: Staffers have been emailed to say that a fix is still being worked on. After three days they are not holding out much hope. Guido understands that the problems stem from the departure of the PRU’s tech guru Nick Roberts, who almost single-handedly wrote all the code for both services. Now no one there knows how to unpick it or make substantive changes…

UPDATE II: Guido hears that the PRU have been unwilling to hire a full-time replacement for Roberts to nurture and develop the code, instead trying to get developers on the cheap on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. Chickens coming home to roost…

IPSA Paying Out Compensation to Parliamentary Staffers Following Data Breach

Following a massive data breach in 2017, Guido has learned that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has paid out significant damages to at least seven Parliamentary staffers. Dozens more are in the process of having their enquiries dealt with

The March 2017 breach saw IPSA erroneously publishing online the names, salaries and expenses of MPs’ staff, potentially exposing them to identity fraud, illegal sale and misuse of their information, and invasion of privacy. Parliament showing in more ways than one it doesn’t know what it’s doing with data and the internet…

Cambridge Analytica ‘Whistleblower’ Wylie Gets ‘Ethical’ New Data-Targeting Job

There was some surprising news from the world of fashion last week, with H&M announcing that they would be hiring Cambridge Analytica ‘whistleblower’ Chris Wylie to use data analytics and “sustainable and ethical” artificial intelligence to help them target potential customers. Guido thought he would do H&M the favour of reminding them about some of Wylie’s previous corporate engagements, to let them decide for themselves just how “ethical” they were…

Guido readers will be remember how Chris Wylie founded his own Cambridge Analytica spin-off, Eunoia Technologies, after acrimoniously parting ways with them. Eunoia then made failed pitches offering the same sort of illicit data targeting, to everyone from Britain Stronger in Europe to Donald Trump, until he finally found a client in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada, trousering a handsome C$100,000. Despite telling Damian Collins he had no clients…

The gaping hole in the narrative of Wylie’s Damascene conversion from “evil” data genius to righteous moral hero is the four-year gap between Wylie leaving Cambridge Analytica and finally deciding to blow the whistle on them, in which time he was happily carrying on with the same activities himself. Surely it had nothing to do with saving his own skin with a highly aggressive journalist hunting him down?

Even Damian Collins found enough time between grandstanding and amplifying Carole’s columns to put Wylie on the spot over this when he questioned him last year. If Wylie felt so strongly about the wrongdoing, why did he wait so long to expose it?

Wylie’s answers to Collins were a veritable cocktail of lies and misinformation:

  • Wylie told Collins that he hadn’t blown the whistle sooner because he “didn’t appreciate the future impact” of his work at the time as well as claiming that he did “not think military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process”.
  • This is a bare-faced lie: in 2013 Wylie explicitly said his goal was to create the “NSA’s wet dream” and openly admitted he wanted to profit out of using the data for “evil” as “evil pays more”:

Our goal is first to make it an extremely profitable company. Then we will cleanse our souls with other projects, like using the data for good rather than evil. But evil pays more.”

  • Wylie even told Collins that Donald Trump’s election had made it “click in [his] head” about the wider impact of what he was doing. Another shameless lie given his own company’s attempts to sell voter-targeting services to Trump’s campaign…

Wylie also tried to use the excuse that Cambridge Analytica had come after him with a “very aggressive team of lawyers” and forced him to sign an undertaking of confidentiality. This is a highly distorted account of what actually happened:

  • According to the independent report into Cambridge Analytica by Julian Malins QC, CA’s lawyers did write to Wylie and his company, Eunoia, “regarding suspected breaches of covenants on intellectual property, client solicitation, staff solicitation and non-competition”.
  • CA found out after one of their existing US political clients tipped them off that they had received a proposal from Eunoia “which purported to deliver exactly the same services as SCL [CA’s parent company]”.

So CA did come after Wylie with lawyers after he left – not to try to hush him up but because he had started his own company in direct competition with them. And was attempting to poach their existing clients using their own intellectual property…

  • Wylie was forced to settle the prospective action in 2015 “by providing very wide ranging written undertakings to SCL… that, in summary, he would not use SCL’s intellectual property and other commercial or confidential material (obtained whilst working with SCL) in the course of his own business enterprise.”
  • As the Malins Report notes, his own business flopped after this: “Wylie was not then and has not been subsequently successful in forming and running a business competing with SCL/CA. Eunoia fell dormant and was subsequently struck off the company register.” Good of H&M to give him another go…

Wylie’s story suddenly starts to look less like a tale of redemption and more like a story of revenge. Carole’s appearance gave him the perfect opportunity to stick the knife into his former employers who had forced him out of business. While simultaneously covering up his own fundamental role in the scandal:

  • Right at the outset, Wylie introduced Cambridge Analytica to Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who developed the original Facebook data-harvesting app.
  • He then worked directly with Kogan to turn it into the app at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • Wylie left Cambridge Analytica, took the illegally-obtained data with him, and launched his own company trying to steal their clients.
  • He unsuccessfully tried to pitch the same illicit voter-targeting services to a range of clients including Trump, Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe.
  • His company flopped after Cambridge Analytica forced him to stop using the intellectual property he stole from them.
  • Years later he finally turned whistleblower after being relentlessly pursued by Carole Cadwalladr for months.
  • Now he goes round the world doing media interviews and giving speeches about how he exposed the wrongdoing – which would probably never have happened in the first place without his involvement – while getting the chance to wipe his slate clean with a plushy job in industry.

And he’s meant to be the good guy in all of this?

Information Commissioner Fines Arron Banks £120,000

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued fines totalling £120,000 to an EU referendum campaign and an insurance company for serious breaches of electronic marketing laws and is set to review how both are complying with data protection laws. However this is down from the £135,000 the ICO provisionally announced in £120,000…

The ICO investigation found that Arron Banks’ Leave.EU and Eldon Insurance were closely linked with the result that Leave.EU used Eldon Insurance customers’ details unlawfully to send almost 300,000 political marketing messages. Leave.EU has been fined £15,000 for this breach. The ICO is warning Banks that it is a criminal offence to obstruct an ICO audit or destroy information covered by it and that they plan to go into the joint Leave.EU/Eldon Insurance offices and assess staff and documentation…

They also found that Eldon Insurance carried out two unlawful direct marketing campaigns. The campaigns involved the sending of over one million emails to Leave.EU subscribers without sufficient consent. Leave.EU has been fined £45,000 and Eldon Insurance has been fined £60,000 for the breach. Worth remembering that this was non-political advertising after the referendum – meanwhile the Lib Dems are still under investigation for selling data to the Remain campaign during the referendum…

Parliament Not Paying Its Bills

Fans of PMQs were unable to watch from the Parliamentlive.TV website today, as the site is down. The House of Commons tweeted that “We are aware that users are experiencing issues with Parliament TV and we are investigating.” It doesn’t take much investigation. Looks more like someone hasn’t paid the bills…

And We’re Back

Apologies for being down. Apparently it was something to do with “an upstream server” somewhere in Texas. Probably.

“502 Bad Gateway error notifications have ceased, and our systems team is seeing our server infrastructure resume normal operations.”

Yay!

March in Review

Some of the top stories from March, Guido’s favourite story that month was the revelation that the Guardian App Harvests Your and Your Friends’ Facebook Data – which is what wicked AIQ and Facebook are in trouble about. Top award-winning investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr missed that one…

Whistleblower Wylie Pocketed $100,000 From Trudeau Despite Telling Collins He Had No Clients

Fans of political dramas will be thrilled by the news that they will also have a Ron Howard-produced biopic of Chris Wylie – “the young gay visionary who created Cambridge Analytica” – to look forward to following Channel 4’s Brexit drama next month. Ron’s blurb says he’s setting out to tell the “true story of Chris Wylie”, Guido thought he would give Ron a little help with piecing some more of the facts together:

As Guido detailed last month, far from turning his back on illicit data activities after leaving Cambridge Analytica, Chris Wylie was busy attempting to flog the “psychographic microtargeting” services of his own company Eunoia Technologies to all and sundry, with little success. Wylie’s snake oil had already been turned down by Donald Trump and the Remain campaign before his pitch to Dominic Cummings flopped too…

Given this litany of failed attempts to monetise his dubious data practices, Damian Collins won’t have been too surprised when Wylie told him at the DCMS Committee on 27th March this year that he hadn’t “been able to benefit” himself from using the data on other projects outside Cambridge Analytica. Not for want of trying…

“I didn’t do any contracts or any, you know, work with that data… I haven’t worked with any clients that data was used for… that data got deleted, I believe, in 2015 on my end.”

Yet Wylie was still trying to peddle his voter-targeting techniques to Cummings in January 2016, and Facebook said that Wylie didn’t certify to them that he had deleted the data until August 2016. The 2015 date is almost certainly wrong…

And just one week before his appearance at the DCMS Committee, a major story broke in Wylie’s native Canada that in 2016 Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party had awarded a C$100,000 (£58,000) contract – to Chris Wylie and Eunoia TechnologiesSomehow Carole Cadwalladr’s prize-winning investigative skills entirely missed that one…

After media pressure in Canada, Trudeau’s Liberal Party was forced to release a statement confirming that Wylie’s firm had received C$100,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money to conduct a “pilot project” for the party’s research bureau, including “setting up social media monitoring tools” and to “design and organize several national samples of Canadians to explore responses to Government policy priorities and other issues of national importance”. Which sounds remarkably similar to the psychological voter profiling and micro-targeting techniques Wylie was trying to tout elsewhere…

  • Was Wylie being straight with Collins when he told him he hadn’t “worked with any clients” or done “any contracts” with the data?
  • Was Wylie being straight with the Canadian Parliament when he told them his work hadn’t involved any targeting of voters, despite Liberal Party insiders saying that he had been trying to push micro-targeting techniques to the party for almost a decade?
  • Was Carole completely unaware of any of this as she was busy lionising him in the British press?

In fact, in his failed pitch to Vote Leave, Wylie told Cummings: “some of us will be in Ottowa this month working on a similar project for a major Canadian political party”. Wylie’s proposal to Cummings detailed a number of a data crimes he planned to commit including for his company to retain psychographic algorithms based on Vote Leave’s data “for future commercial applications”. Did Wylie’s work for Trudeau’s party involve “similar” breaches of data protection laws?

These are serious questions for Damian Collins, the ICO and the British media to ask. By his own admission, if Wylie did any work for clients using models built using the Facebook data, even if it wasn’t directly using the data itself, he is guilty of openly misleading Parliament. At least he didn’t walk away entirely empty-handed after all his hard work obtaining the illicit data in the first place…

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Geeks Invent ‘Brexonometer’ to Measure Brits’ Brexit Frustration

A bunch of tech geeks have created a fancy-looking ‘Brexonometer’ which claims to give “moment by moment insight into how the nation is feeling about Brexit by applying advanced analytics to compute the real-time sentiment of Tweets.” The creators explain:

“All English language Tweets mentioning the word Brexit are aggregated into mini-batches of messages. We then use natural language processing technologies to compute the overall sentiment of each batch.”

Funnily enough there was a surge of activity around 9pm last night. Incredibly, the current sentiment isn’t just “aaaaaaaaargh”, it is in fact slightly positive today, at least according to the ‘Brexonometer’. Guido suspects it may be a case of ‘garbage in, garbage out’…

Damian’s Dodgy Data Discovery

Carole Cadwalladr has exclusively revealed that self-promoting DCMS Committee Chairman Damian Collins made the extraordinary move to seize documents from the founder of a small US software company called ‘Six4Three’ over the weekend – in time for Carole’s deadline. The founder Ted Kramer, who is currently suing Facebook in a messy lawsuit in California, just happened to be in the UK on a ‘business trip’. The DCMS Committee apparently magically knew about this brief trip, the hotel the founder was staying at, and that he had the documents with him. This remarkably detailed information led to Collins initiating a parliamentary procedure to seize the documents, complete with the theatrical sending of a serjeant at arms to the founder’s hotel with a “final warning” and an escort to parliament. It all seems a little choreographed…

It appears to Guido that this entire theatrical codswallop story is a stitch up. The ‘Six4Three’ founder seems to have flown to the UK specifically to have the documents seized – which Facebook wants to keep confidential. NBC’s tech investigations editor Olivia Solon has suggested that if that weren’t the case you would “be seeing statements from his lawyers decrying jurisdictional overreach / worrying misuse of power.” Why did ‘Six4Three’ founder have the documents with him, under seal, on his trip to the UK?

If Guido was the sort of journalist who made unsubstantiated speculative allegations that later had to be corrected he’d wonder, without any firm evidential basis, if Damian is part of a charade to get these documents out in the open and Carole Cadwalldr knows this because she has been in touch with Ted Kramer, the owner of Six4Three. He is suing Facebook, claiming that “Facebook itself is the biggest violator of data misuse in the history of the software industry”. On this point he is probably correct.

Should Damian be co-operating with an attempt to subvert United States due legal process? Isn’t Collins’ committee’s whole shtick meant to be sticking up for due process and the rule of law?

Information Commissioner Crushes Carole’s Conspiracies

Guido readers will be well-versed in Carole Cadwalladr’s various conspiracy theories about how a secret nexus of data companies conspired to rig the Brexit vote. As well as the corrections that would inevitably follow her front page ‘revelations’, buried on page 50 of the next week’s Observer…

In an inconvenient twist for the Orwell Prize-winning journalist, the report out today from the Information Commissioner’s Office has crushed most of her central claims.[…] Read the rest “Information Commissioner Crushes Carole’s Conspiracies”

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Quote of the Day

Dr Alexander Kogan, the app developer who originally harvested the Facebook data, said…

“I think what Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic and made claims this is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you. But I think the reality is it’s not that. If you sit down and you really work through the statistics and you think what does a correlation of point three means, those claims quickly fall apart. And that’s something any person with a statistical background can go and do.”

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