The subversion of democracy by big data

The subversion of democracy by big data

The fabulous Carol Cadwalladyr brings us the next instalment of undoing the surveillance states control over our democracies.

In an article “The Great British Brexit Robbery”, she and the Guardian showed how the Tories and the Brexit Leave Campaigns had used US Data Aanlytics companies to influence the Brexit referendum. It is alleged that the personal data was obtained illegally, its processing was illegal and that it was an undeclared election/referendum expense. The evidence was sufficient for the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Electoral Commission to launch investigations.

Over the last two days, Facebook have suspended Cambridge Analytica & one other company and the latter’s Principal for breaking their terms and conditions and in one case a breach of contract not to pass data on. The story is reported in the Guardian in a story called, “‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower” , which documents the contractual paper trial. This happened two years ago and it is alleged that Facebook knew of it then. It is a crime in many jurisdictions, including California to not notify either the regulators or the data subjects of a breach/leak of personal data.

Sadly 🤔 they have been accused of misleading the House of Commons, select committee inquiry into Fake News. It has been denied that Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data in a verbal submission. Its Chair, Damian Collins, is quite forthright, accusing Facebook of sending under informed representatives to answer the committee’s questions. The word wilful ignorance comes to mind.

As Brits, we need to see if crimes were committed during the 2015 & 2017 General Elections and/or the Brexit Refrendum but this can’t be good for Facebook’s reputation.

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I wish we still had Storify, this is one for them.

The image is from the Guardian on the story on Parliament’s reaction.

Osterley

A day out in Brentford and Isleworth campaigning for a Labour Victory; this is the second most marginal Labour seat in London. Fab company, the team came from all over London.

I met my first voter who loved Corbyn but was abstaining because he couldn’t stand the local Labour candidate’s anti-brexit position.

A comrade came across someone who claimed to be a life long Labour voter who was leaving us because we plan to repeal the Tories inheritance tax give-aways. They have set the start point to  £850,000 up from £325,000. This makes a difference in London and plays to my argument that tax bills deter not only those that will pay them, but those that hope to do so too. We tried the triple lock and dementia tax, maybe should have tried the abolition of tuition fees. (I wonder if this is the sort of stuff that the Tories are putting out through their Facebook advertising campaign, now if there was only a crowd sourced rapid rebuttal site that I could post this to.)

Campaigning

A quick trip around the Lewisham Deptford constituency canvassing for the Labour Party. A couple of accusations about getting Brexit wrong, i.e. the nuance in Labour’s front bench position upsets i.e. pisses off London remainers. Labour’s candidate for re-election, Vicky Foxcroft , voted against the Article 50 notice bill, twice! It makes life easier for people like me; I am glad I don’t live in Vauxhall.

I am surprised at the large number of EU citizens I meet who cannot vote in the general election. Mistakes were made; it’s wrong that people who’ve been here for more than 5 years, in employment, paying tax can’t vote in the general election; nor in the referendum.

One issue came up which I had missed and not expected. The Tories have abolished the council tax support for those on the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Councils have had to develop ways of making up the shortfall, by either cutting (discretionary) services or levying council tax on ESA claimants. There are other laws that stop councils levying the council tax on the wealthier residents, if they have them…. It’s another Tory cut ensuring that Labour councils and the Party take the blame.

I’ll finish by stating that there were a few who say they’ve left Labour because of Corbyn. It’s sometimes hard to determine if this is actually about Brexit, or about other aspects of his politics, but I met one person from Northern Ireland who can’t support him over his record on that subject. Someone else did the talking, but I think these conversations have to start with whether they support the Good Friday agreement or not. From my point of view, the anti-corbynism on the doorstep is less frequent, if more vitriolic,  an occurrence then those who couldn’t support Ed Miliband because they didn’t like the way he ate a bacon sandwich, or something!. Labour supporters who repeat these damaging slurs need to remember the way that Ed was attacked as not being up to it and let’s not forget the attacks on Kinnock either.

A final note, Vicky is well known, although some still ask where Joan’s gone!

Manipulation

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus explore the latest in Election winning software as sold by Cambridge Analytica and used by the Republican Party in the US General Election. It was also seemingly used by the Brexit campaigners in the UK. Their article explores the evolution of the pyschograph model and data collection techniques developed by academics and then looks at its more sinister uses via Facebook profiling data and big data analytics.

There are two lessons from this. The first, easier and personal one is to seriously consider how one uses Facebook, if at all. I feel it harder to give up now that messenger has E2E encryption but I shan’t be doing any more quizzes, not even what D&D class would you be;  I suppose especially not what D&D class are you, (Wizard by the way). Even the fact that I did an ABBA quiz yesterday and not Lady Gaga seems to give these nosy bastards data that they use.

The second lesson is for the Labour Party and relates to the fact that Trump’s campaign (and to some extent the Brexit and UK GE 2015) have updated the IT playbook. Up until then Obama’s 2012 campaign was the model to match and beat. To compare with this, in 2015, Labour spent more on the “Ed Stone” detailing the infamous five pledges than on Facebook and while some message prototyping, where messages are tested for effectiveness and then targeted and a tiny amount of crowd sourced message design occurred, we have to do better.

In the run up to the election, both Labour and the Tories brought in consultants from the Obama campaign, Labour brought in David Axelrod, and the Tories brought in Jim Messina. Messina would seem to have been the big data champion in Obama’s campaign and with the help of Cambridge Analytica they rewrote the political IT playbook.

The Electoral Commission are now looking into the legality of the Tories expenditure; micro-targeting and message customisation has been shown to cause campaign accounting problems since local and national expenses need to be accounted for separately and have separate limits.

And this is all before the authorities consider the data protection and privacy implications.

There are dangers from micro-targeting as promises made to some groups can be used against the authors. The Motherboard article highlights Clinton’s problem over relief in Haiti and in the UK, Ed Miliband’s mansion tax did not play well in London and the way the British deal with racism in politics has always given hostages to fortune, as we can see on some of the attacks on Ken Livingstone and aspects of the 2016 London Mayoral campaign.

The use of pyschographs and the messages it creates is a reinforcement of the the move from a transactional politics to perception based campaign; it’s one of the reasons that Ed Miliband failed and Labour’s new left, but aged leadership can’t break through to the electorate and one of the reasons why May can adopt elements of Miliband’s programme on energy and the minimum wage. Programmes and promises don’t count as much as they used to.

How to change perception is hard. I have been struggling with “Perception is reality” for many years because it isn’t. There are facts beyond perception and ignorance is ignorance.

Fixing Labour’s IT is easier, and the answer isn’t PHP and an updated voter ID system, it needs a modern applications architecture, a big data platform and it would seem they need to resurrect the once famed rapid rebuttal system. The excuse we can’t afford it no longer holds true. Did you know Labour is debt free?

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This is a longer comment based on what I said facebook yesterday, I have made a story @ storify which has some further sources. This article was published on ello.davelevy.info, it has tool tips and should probably have been posted on the blog.

The struggle of the class

The struggle of the class

I stayed up the People’s History Museum after the meeting and had a quick wander round the standing exhibition. Since it’s a museum of the working class, it’s stronger on the period after the industrial revolution and focuses on the coming of the franchise, the foundation of the trade unions and the Labour Party and the suffragettes. I did however stop at their exhibitions on Thomas Paine and even earlier the Levellers. It opens with two panels on corruption of power and the secret societies which were the precursors of the trade unions, both of which are becoming more accurate by the day.

Keep your vote

Keep your vote

At the beginning of the summer, I got a letter saying that I was to be kept on the electoral register, and yet over the weekend I received a letter addressed to the occupier, demanding to know, who lived there so they could write and ask all residents to register to vote. Previously, registration was done once for the whole household, now it must be done each and every voter on their own behalf. If the letter is not returned or if filled in untruthfully the residents are threatened with a £1,000 – £5,000 fine. If we fill in the form, or it is filled in on pur behalf we will be invited to fill in another form, or use an online form. The online form, asks all sorts of impertinent questions including and this is a new one, my NI number. (I thought we’d voted not to have a national ID card.) You should note, it’s a central government site, and while it uses https, to stop others seeing what you’re doing, it means that the Government now has a list of all people who apply to vote online. That’s also new.

Voting by Mobile Phone

Voting by Mobile Phone

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today bemoans the low turn out and the perceived ‘rotten borough’ nature of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. Among her arguments she suggests voting should be made easier by allowing people to use their mobile phones.

I have commented; because identifying oneself to government, counting elections and guaranteeing the secrecy of the ballot are the last things we should hand over to proprietary, closed software. Digital activists have come to the conclusion that even counting election results by scanned paper ballots is undesirable and where it is done in this country, a sample based manual verification is undertaken. I presented the argument that the regulator’s code must be open to the @labourdigital Top of the Manifestos event.

What do London’s MEP candidates think about digital?

What do London’s MEP candidates think about digital?

Yesterday the Open Rights Group held its final European Parliament hustings at Shoreditch Village Hall in Hoxton, London. It’s been a while since I visited and it’s certainly cleaned up well. It was great to be there. On the way in, I met Claude Moraes, Labour’s spokesman who told me that the Tories non-attendance was deliberate policy. I don’t know if it’s shame at their behaviour on the lobbying around the data protection directive or fear of a digitally educated audience. The meeting was moderated by Glyn Moody, who led the meeting through the issues of privacy, surveillance, whistle blowing, net neutrality, lobbying and copyright reform. The Tories absence meant that representatives from Labour, the LibDems, both represented by incumbents Claude Moraes and Sarah Ludford,the Greens (Danny Bates) and UKIP (Paul Oakley) who were not, were present.