People’s Vote Splurging Cash on Facebook ‘Micro-Targeting’

Facebook have published pages political spending for October to December this year, revealing that far and away the biggest spenders were Remain campaigners. The People’s Vote campaign came in with the highest spending of any political organisation, in fact being the only campaign to reach six figures, splurging £150,841 in just over two months. Who funds them…?

Interestingly, the Government has promoted just eleven different adverts over the whole period, compared to a staggering 1,238 from the People’s Vote campaign – around twenty different adverts a day. If Guido were more conspiratorially-minded he might say that sounds suspiciously like ‘dark ad’ micro-targeting…

Oxford Professor’s Car Crash Attempt to Discredit Referendum Result

The online-only Independent’s “front page” today breathlessly reported that “illegal Facebook spending ‘won 2016 vote for Leave'”. Philip Howard, a professor at the “Oxford Internet Institute” said it was his “professional opinion” that it was “very likely” that “excessive spending by Vote Leave altered the result of the referendum”. Howard is due to put his “evidence” to the High Court tomorrow…

On closer inspection, it appears “very likely” that Howard’s evidence is a load of utter rubbish, with statisticians having a field day tearing apart his numbers on Twitter. Howard’s calculations get off to a good start with his assumption that 80 million people saw Vote Leave Facebook ads during the so-called “period of excess spending”. That’s in a country of 66 million people, with an electorate of 46.5 million. By Howard’s calculation, 172% of the electorate saw Vote Leave’s ads…

Of those 80 million people, Howard then claims to use a “conservative industry estimate” that 10% of people who saw the ads would have clicked on them. Of that 10%, he claims that 10% believe, and then “a further 10% of that number can be expected to do something”. Except in his own calculation, he entirely emits his own final step, claiming that 800,000 people (10% of 10% of his imaginary electorate of 80 million) had their votes swung by the ads in the final week of the referendum, rather than 80,000 as his own model predicts. Leave won by over 1.2 million votes…

Moreover, the source he cites for his “conservative industry estimate” estimate of 10% click-through rate – a book called New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen – says “banner ads on politics topics generally had a 1 percent click-through rate”. The author of this venerable source? A certain Professor Philip Howard…

Even glossing over Howard’s other major errors, including… deep breath… conflating organic Vote Leave post impressions with paid ad impressions, assuming that the entirety of his imaginary electorate uses Facebook, ignoring the fact that Stronger In were also running huge numbers of Facebook ads and that more people made up their minds to vote Remain than Leave in the final week, assuming that everyone who decided to vote Leave after seeing an ad had previously been planning to vote Remain, the maximum number of people whose votes could have been swung – according to his own methodology – is 4,650. There’s wishful thinking, and then there’s pure and utter fantasy…

UPDATE: For any readers looking to enjoy more of Howard’s stellar “research”, Guido can heartily recommend this paper where he defines all Twitter accounts tweeting more than 50 times a day as bots. Although if you do fall into that category yourself, Guido might suggest getting a few other hobbies…

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?

The Other Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower Wylie’s Own Dodgy Data Dealings

While the ICO’s report into data use in the referendum principally served to blow apart Carole Cadwalladr’s main Brexit conspiracy, one aspect of the report that has largely been overlooked is the role of data-hustler-turned-whistleblower Chris Wylie. The one who made an international media and public speaking career out of setting up Cambridge Analytica and then dobbing them in…

A notable feature of the ICO report is how few people are explicitly named in it – not even Arron Banks is. The few that are include Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the academic whose company harvested the data behind the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a couple of other individuals related to Cambridge Analytica, and Chris Wylie. Not exactly the good guys in this whole saga…

Wylie’s inclusion in the report is not in the context of his role as whistleblower, it is as a key part of how Cambridge Analytica came to acquire the Facebook data at the heart of the scandal in the first place:

“In May 2014, Dr Aleksandr Kogan… offered to undertake the work himself as he had developed his own app called the ‘CPW Lab App’… We have seen evidence that CA staff, including whistleblower Chris Wylie, were involved in setting up these contacts through their networks of friends and colleagues; many of whom had been involved in earlier campaigns in North America…

“Once the company was set up and a contract signed with CA, Dr Kogan, with some help from Chris Wylie, overhauled the ‘CPW Lab App’ changing the name, terms and conditions of the app into the ‘GSR App’ which ultimately became thisisyourdigitallife (the app).”

Wylie himself has never denied his role in creating Cambridge Analytica, telling Damian Collins’ DCMS Select Committee in March: “To be clear, Cambridge Analytica was set up in large part because of the research I was doing at SCL Group [Cambridge Analytica’s parent company].”

However, Cambridge Analytica was not the only company which received the illicit Facebook data set that resulted from Wylie’s work with Dr Kogan. As has been reported in North American press (and confirmed by Mark Zuckerberg to the US Congress) but largely ignored in the UK, the harvested data was also acquired by one other company, Eunoia Technologies. Eunoia Technologies Inc. was a separate company registered in the US on 12th June 2014… by Chris Wylie.

Wylie’s background is in centre-left politics, he worked for many years with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada and also worked with the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Since becoming a whistleblower, he has described social data harvesting as “grossly unethical”…

However, that didn’t stop Eunoia unsuccessfully trying to flog its services to Donald Trump’s campaign director in early 2015, before Eunoia again attempted to sell their services to the Remain campaign in November 2015, as Private Eye reported in April this year. Finally, he had yet another pitch rebuffed in January 2016, this time with Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings dismissing his offer of “psychographic microtargeting”. Evidently Cummings was not the only one who concluded they were “charlatans”…

Zuckerberg told the US Congress that Wylie had certified to Facebook that Eunoia deleted its data in August 2016, but added that Facebook had “no way to confirm” activities that had “taken place off Facebook and its systems”. Eunoia’s UK branch didn’t wind up as a company until 24 October 2017.

The ICO’s report itself is inconclusive about the fate of the Facebook data, confirming that their own investigations into it are still ongoing:

“Our concerns also extend to who else may have received the harvested data and what they then did with it; our enquiries are active and continuing in that regard…”

“We will be making sure any organisations, which may still have copies of the Facebook data and its derivatives demonstrate its deletion.”

Given his intimate involvement in the genesis of the scandal, it would be remarkable if Wylie and Eunoia were not key lines of inquiry for the ICO in this regard. Only two companies are known to have received the illicit data – Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia. The ICO obtained a search warrant and raided the offices of one. What has it done about the other?

Nick Clegg’s New Job Lobbying the European Commission

It seems like a bit of a come down for a former Deputy PM to become Facebook’s spin-doctor and Brussels lobbyist – however it is dressed up that is what he is being hired to do. No doubt the fee and stock option millions will cushion the humilation.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Clegg said: “Throughout my public life I have relished grappling with difficult and controversial issues and seeking to communicate them to others. I hope to use some of those skills in my new role.” The former MP for Sheffield Hallam is being hired for his connections at the European Commission. He was a former EC trade negotiator and member of the European Parliament. Facebook is the prime legal target of the European Commission for privacy breaches and a myriad of other regulatory issues. Not the least of which is taxing the internet giant.

On which subject Clegg previously said “I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating. Nor am I sure that companies such as Facebook really pay all the tax they could.” Guido’s sure Mark Zuckerberg will be pleased to hear what his new hire thinks now…

It also signals that he thinks the fight against Brexit is over. Now he’s in Brussels for one thing only. The money, reportedly £1 million-a-year…

 

Corbyn Deletes His Facebook Account

Jeremy Corbyn appears to have deleted his Facebook account after Guido revealed he was a member of five anti-Semitic groups on the site. Corbyn was a very active user of his personal Facebook account before he became Labour leader, and all his posts and group activity remained up here until today. The page now says: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now. The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you’re not in”. When the man who wants to be Prime Minister has to hide his Facebook account to prevent it from being further linked to anti-Semitism, you know there’s a problem…

UPDATE: Labour have confirmed to the Mirror that Corbyn deliberately deleted his personal Facebook account.

590 Million Facebook Profiles Potentially Harvested By Guardian App

The Observer’s main revelation over the last couple of weeks has been their claim that Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million Facebook accounts. They found that CA’s Aleksander Kogan collected data from 270,000 accounts and was able to access data from all their friends – on average 185 users per account – making up a total of 50 million. This does seem to add up, the most recent figures suggest the median number of Facebook friends per account is just under 200. 

The Guardian app’s privacy policy reveals they also collect data from your Facebook account, and the accounts of all your friends. This data includes “your name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID and any other information you choose to share according to your Facebook account settings, as well as the user details of your Facebook friends”. You have to give permission to have your data, and that of your friends, collected if you want to use the app. This has been happening for years…

The Guardian say their app has 3.2 million active users. If those users have on average 185 Facebook friends each, that means the Guardian has potentially accessed the personal Facebook data of something like 592 million accounts. That is more than ten times the number Cambridge Analytica reportedly got hold of. This is a conservative estimate as it only includes “active” users of the Guardian app – it will have been downloaded by many more down the years. Will Damian Collins be hauling the head of data and CEO of the Guardian in front of his select committee?

Guardian App Harvests Your and Your Friends’ Facebook Data

The Guardian app harvests your personal data from your Facebook page and also the data of all of your friends – the exact same central allegation the Observer has been making against Cambridge Analytica. The privacy policy of the Guardian Facebook app makes clear if you don’t grant permission to have your and your friends’ social media data harvested you cannot use the app:

When you first access the App, for example by clicking on a link to a Guardian article from your Facebook newsfeed, you will be presented with a Facebook permissions page, which will advise you about the Facebook information you will be sharing with the App and other Facebook users. You can then decide whether or not to share your Facebook information by using the App. If you decide not to grant permission you will not be able to use the App. 

By granting permission you will be agreeing to share your Facebook user details (including your name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID and any other information you choose to share according to your Facebook account settings) as well as the user details of your Facebook friends, and information about your use of the App, for example, the articles you are reading.”

The Guardian’s general privacy policy also reveals they sell your “behavioural data” to third parties:

“We may also share anonymised behavioural data with advertising partners, including commercial organisations that fund content labelled ‘Supported by’, ‘Paid content/Paid for by’ or ‘Advertiser content/from our advertisers’. This may mean that when you are on other websites, you will be shown advertising based on your behaviour on theguardian.com. We may also show you advertising on our site based on your behaviour on other sites.

They also reveal the Guardian uses data from third-party surveys – this is exactly how Aleksandr Kogan got his data for Cambridge Analytica:

“To assist us in our marketing, in addition to the data that you provide to us if you register, we may also obtain data from trusted third parties to help us understand what you might be interested in. This ‘profiling’ information is produced from a variety of sources, including publicly available data (such as the electoral roll) or from sources such as surveys and polls where you have given your permission for your data to be shared.”

Did the Guardian sell your behavioural data to Cambridge Analytica? Are they the missing piece of the jigsaw that blows this whole conspiracy wide open? Over to you, Carole…

Corbyn Personally Joined Third Anti-Semitic Facebook Group

Jeremy Corbyn has been active in one anti-Semitic Facebook group. He was a member of a second anti-Semitic Facebook group until last week. And now Guido can reveal he personally joined and is still a member of a third Facebook group filled with extremely anti-Semitic content. 

The difference with the other groups is that Corbyn personally and actively joined “The Labour Party Supporter”. He was not added by anybody else. “The Labour Party Supporter” is full of anti-Semitic postings about the Rothschilds, Jews harvesting organs, the Holocaust and conspiracy theories linking Israel and ISIS. Corbyn remains a member of the group this morning.

Corbyn cannot use the excuse that he was added by someone else and didn’t know about it. He decided the group was something he wanted to join, and something he wanted to remain a member of to this very day, despite the huge amount of anti-Semitic material posted in the group for years. Does anyone believe his line that with the mural, the Facebook groups and everything else, he simply didn’t notice the anti-Semitism?

Facebook Engagement Drop Off Not Seen Here

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook algorithm moves in mysterious ways. To Guido’s surprise, checking Facebook’s analytics shows that our engagement levels are actually up since the Zuck announced they will be deprioritising “publisher content which is just passively consumed and not talked about”. The above graphic shows the amount of engagement achieved on the Facebook pages of some of our rivals last week according to Facebook’s publisher insights. Not what many would have expected.

One of Guido’s rivals reckons what this really means is that plain vanilla reporting will be downgraded and news with views will be upgraded. Looks like engaging content is still king…

49 Russian Twitter Trolls Sent Just 942 Tweets During Referendum

Over in Washington, Twitter’s Nick Pickles has told grandstanding Damian Collins and his Culture, Media and Sport select committee that the company detected just 49 accounts linked to a Russian “troll factory”, which sent out a mere 942 tweets during the EU referendum. This is 0.005% of the total number of accounts that tweeted about the referendum. Earlier Collins lost it with Facebook’s representative for denying there was any Russian intervention, snapping: “But you haven’t looked! You haven’t looked!”, and even implying Facebook was lucky not to be “closed down” and its executives “face prosecution. Almost as if Collins is an arch-Remainer using his position to push the Russia / Brexit conspiracy theory, even when the tech companies themselves say it’s a load of nonsense…

Unilad Deleted From Facebook

Viral video outlet Unilad appears to have been booted off Facebook. Unilad’s main page went offline after the social network said it had violated its posting policy. Unilad has (or had) 34 million followers. It’s not clear if the ban is temporary or permanent. Unilad has a staff of 60, it makes its founders hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits, it has a global reach of a billion people per week and Facebook is its main traffic driver and revenue source. Facebook now holds the future of many publishers in its hands… 

Cringeworthy Rudd Memes Worse Than Activate

Last week The Times reported that three social media accounts promoting Amber Rudd have been set up by her supporters. Guido has been following their progress and can report that they have alas not gone viral. @VoteForRudd has attracted a total of 300 followers, pumping out memes that are more cringeworthy than Activate. This photoshop of the “Battle of Hastings re-enactment” got two retweets.

In fact, we’re probably being harsh on Activate. These Rudd graphics are worse:

The “Vote For Rudd” Facebook page is even more cringe, it has managed just 90 likes. Meanwhile on Instagram they’re mocking her up as a cheerleader and calling themselves the “Ruddettes“.

All in all it is not exactly #Moggmentum. The terrible accounts are being run by an anonymous blogger calling himself “Tory Boy 999“. He says:

“We need young people with a good knowledge of social networking to become keyboard warriors for the centre right. We are endeavouring to provide a range of useful resources and will be running this blog, an active instagram account and a YouTube channel. We encourage people to copy and paste, screenshot, share or reproduce any of these resources. We want to reach as many people as possible, target young people and reach new audiences.”

Is that you, Roland?

New Number 10 “Road to Brexit” Social Media Strategy

Number 10 is releasing a video titled “The Road to Brexit” on Facebook and Twitter this afternoon as it steps up its Brexit messaging – you can watch it on Guido first. It’s the first time Theresa May’s government has really tried to do anything like this – a 21st century social media strategy pumping positive Brexit news into the newsfeeds of young voters. Certainly a marked change in communications compared with the previous regime. The video strikes a realistic tone, noting these are “the most complex negotiations the country has ever faced”, stressing the tough talks ahead and the need for a transition period. It also reconfirms the Lancaster House principles of leaving the single market and customs union and taking back control of laws, borders and trade. Good to see civil servants previously tasked with talking up Project Fear doing something useful for a change…

May’s Facebook Live Q & A

Facebook Reports BBC to Police

Facebook has reported a number of BBC journalists to the police after they “provided” them with evidence of child abuse image that appeared on the social network. It is obviously illegal to distribute child abuse images, so when Facebook asked the BBC to “provide examples of the material” they had apparently found, the Beeb’s lawyers should have sounded alarm bells. Instead, the BBC “did so”, and Facebook then reported them to the National Crime Agency. As a Facebook spokesman says:

“It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation.”

And in their write up of the story the BBC admits to have confessed all. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to invite them in and show them in person?

Momentum Spent Thousands to Gain 0.4% Votes

Momentum have spent thousands on Facebook advertising to recruit supporters to Unite to vote for Len McCluskey in the union’s forthcoming election. People in the know estimate well over £10,000 was spent…

The Guardian reports that just an

“extra 659 people joined as community members in December compared with the previous month, part or all of which may be the result of the campaign group asking its supporters to join Unite to vote to keep McCluskey, a key ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In total the union has 1.4 million members, though only about 15% voted in the last election of its general secretary in 2013. Were all the new members to vote, the turnout could be expected to increase by around 4%.”

Not fake news just poor mathematics, the increased vote would be a mere 0.4%.  A rounding error…

Facebook Likes Post-Brexit UK, Plans Thousands More Jobs

Facebook zuckerberg

Facebook will confirm its commitment to add 500 skilled jobs to its London workforce today as part of a plan to expand its British headquarters from 4,000 to 7,000 employees within the next four years. This joins Google’s £1 billion investment in Britain, and Apple’s huge new HQ at Battersea as evidence that the tech sector is still thriving. Unemployment is falling and retail is surging, despite Brexit! Strangely, Google, Apple and Facebook are not worried about being outside the EU’s Digital Single Market, the over-regulated, over-subsidised irrelevance to the future…

Choking the McChicken: X-Rated Content Trends on Facebook

CHOKING THE mcchicken sandwhich]

Facebook was embarrassed over the weekend after it replaced its human editors with an algorithm, which then allowed a fake news story to appear on the site’s “trending” sidebar. It gets worse. Trending on Facebook yesterday was an x-rated video of a man performing a sex act on a McDonald’s McChicken sandwich – choking the McChicken, if you will. Previously Facebook’s trending stories were monitored by a team of real people, who could filter out fowl content like this. This weekend the algorithm was set loose to decide what should trend. With predictable results. I’m not loving it.

Corbynistas Attempting to Preempt Co-op Plan

co-operative party inflitrate

In yesterday’s Sunday Times, Tim Shipman revealed that some nameless Labour moderates might use their sister Co-operative Party to form a new opposition. While plans for the immediate future include establishing a factional grouping, Shippers has uncovered a scheme to get Labour moderates to sign up MPs to the Co-operative Party itself, which has a pact to work with Labour in Parliament and elections.[…] Read the rest

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Quote of the Day

Andrea Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s Today

“He’s made his views on Brexit on the record, and the problem with that of course is that the chair’s impartiality is absolutely essential. … He’s made his views known on Brexit… it’s a matter for him but nevertheless it’s a challenge and all colleagues need to form their own view of that.”

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