The Facebook Furor

Paula LaBrot

Are you wondering what the Facebook commotion is about? Here is the situation. It involves United States privacy laws, data mining and manipulation of the masses.

What happened? There are allegations that a company called Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to unlawfully gain access to the personal information of more than 50 million users. Let’s unravel this.

According to Wikipedia, Nigel Oakes founded the British BDI—Behavioral Dynamics Institute—in 1990 as a research facility for strategic communications. Their raison d’être was to learn how to shift mass opinion. Instead of the usual advertising approach to influence public opinion, they use anthropological and psychological studies of populations to figure out how to manipulate public thinking. That requires a lot of personal data from that population. How convenient the internet is in providing that kind of information!

Oakes then created the Strategic Communications Laboratory (SCL) in 1993. Cambridge Analytica is the U.S.-based political data analytic arm of the SCL Group. Wikipedia states, “SCL uses what they call ‘psy-ops’ to provide insight into the thinking of their target audience.” The company has been used by the military and politicians worldwide to study and manipulate public opinion and public will.”

Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, was reported by the Guardian to have bragged they can create everything from sex scandals to fake news; they are major political and social manipulators.

In the Facebook case, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed how Cambridge Analytica had harvested data from users using a personality quiz on the social network. Here is how that worked.

In 2014, Wylie hired 28-ish year old University of Cambridge academic psychologist and data scientist Alexander Kogan to build a data base of psychometric profiles for Cambridge Analytica. These are personality tests—psychological profiles that can help understand and, thus, manipulate a person. Kogan then hired 270, 000 people to install and fill out his survey app on their Facebook accounts. He hired them from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk job dashboard, where anyone can post a job for freelancers to pick up. The pay is miniscule: answering a survey can get you a whopping 85 cents. So, this was pretty cheap data collection costs.

New York Magazine reports that each of the 270,000 freelancers inadvertently gave permission for the app, i.e., the survey, to give up a significant amount of data about their Facebook friends as well. Information like location, job and educational histories, pages liked, etc., allowed Kogan to harvest 50 million profiles. If information is power, there is a lot of power in that much data.

Collecting that data was not against the rules in 2014. Passing that information on to Cambridge Analytica was. Technically, Facebook was not in breach of user’s privacy. But they made it easy for surveillance advertising companies to collect people’s private data.

Here is something helpful you can do. Go to your Facebook page. Click on the little down arrow on the far-right top bar, go to SETTINGS. On the left-hand side of the page click on APPS where you will see all the Apps logged in on your FB page. On mine, I found Skype, and I closed it by clicking on the X. Below that list you will see APPS OTHERS USE. Click on EDIT and uncheck everything you want private. This is the feature that Cambridge Analytica profited from. Of course, keep your Privacy Page up to date. Go to the down arrow and to SETTINGS. Go to PRIVACY. Also, Go to TIMELINE and TAGGING for a more in-depth look at what you allow on your timeline and what you are tagged in.

To permanently delete your account is a process that can take 90 days. Just shutting it down does not remove your info. For instructions to delete:

Tom Krisher from the Associated Press reports that on the same day Facebook took out ads in major news outlets to apologize for the CA scandal, they “faced new questions about collecting phone numbers and TEXT MESSAGES” from mobile devices. Whoops! Turn off the option to allow contact uploading for your mobile devices. Start here to fix the problem:, or

Check the privacy settings for any app you install. The data collection option on apps for mobile devices is often “on” by default, with no warnings for the user, and data miners are there to collect, collect, collect.  

DON’T FREAK OUT! Just get educated. We are still in the frontier days of tech. This is simply opportunism at work. It’s a marketing phenomenon. Trump’s campaign used it, Obama’s campaign used it, movie companies use it and people sell soap with it. It’s group-think manipulation.

Love all, trust few, always paddle your own canoe.

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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