Monday, October 12, 2020

Cambridge Analytica: "The stuff doesn't work"

The  Financial Times' Izabella Kaminska did a worthy service last week by reading the full Information Commissioner's Office Cambridge Analytica/SCL report and doing a write-up on same.

ICO’s final report into Cambridge Analytica invites regulatory questions

After more than three years, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner, has closed her investigation into improper data handling by the SCL and Cambridge Analytica group.

At first glance her findings, which were released on Tuesday, dispel many of the accusations put forward by whistleblowers and digital rights campaigners over the course of 2018....



I wasn't going to link to her post because by the time I got to it Marginal Revolution had made it part of one of their daily linkfests and it had even, for a while, topped the leader board at Real Clear Investigations (attn: Mr. Murphy) However, one of the points that stands out in Ms. Kaminska's reporting—and not just because she gave it a a bolded sub-head—is:

.... Guilty of overselling psychographics?

Another unpopular finding by the Commissioner relates to how ineffective the group’s predictive analytics really were. Potentially very. As noted in the report (our emphasis):...

And I thought: "Well of course, the stuff doesn't work." But then I asked myself why was I so sure it didn't work?

In part because of this, posted March 24, 2018: 

"Alexander Nix, a fake Bond villain obscuring the real mastermind"

The transcript of the conversation reads in spots as though 007 is the plodden, heavy, Sean Connery Bond whereas anyone with half a brain knows the real Bond was Roger Moore.

That quibble aside, this is genius.
From the Financial Times:

Cambridge Analytica’s éminence grise is really just an adman bigging up his firm

There does seem to be more than a touch of the Bond villain about Alexander Nix, the perfectly turned-out figure at the centre of the Facebook data row.
Ah, 007. Our target is this man, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix.

Is that Dr Nix?
Er, no. Just Mr Nix.

Pity. Dr Nix sounds more sinister. So what’s Little Nix done?
He’s inserted himself into the world’s most powerful data engine and is using it to change election outcomes.

I see. How do we know this? 
He’s been telling everyone.

Telling everyone? Isn’t this the kind of thing you do secretly? Probably from a bunker hidden inside a volcano on an island in the Pacific which doesn’t exist on radar.
He seems to be operating mainly out of an office off Oxford Street. Wired called him one of 25 geniuses making the future happen now.

Who else was on the list?
There was a guy who makes movies for Amazon and a woman in charge of documentaries for Netflix.

So he’s hiding in plain sight. Clever. 
He’s not exactly hiding. He goes to conferences and does interviews about how his firm won it for Trump.

 I see. What do they do? 
They use programmatic campaigning on social media augmented with linear optimised data.

You mean targeted advertising.
 Not just targeted advertising, Bond. We think he’s developed a powerful new tool he calls psychographics. It fuses demographic data with personality traits.

OK, so it’s very targeted advertising....

Re: Plodden, I think I just came up with a neologism. Or at minimum a portmanteau of plodding and leaden.
Or maybe it's a malamanteau:

Lord knows I've tried:
The White House Is Searching for the NextGen Futurecow (MOO)
Nextgen futurecow is probably as close to a neologism as I'm ever going to get....
(cue deep mournful lowing)
For a discussion of neologisms we have on offer:
Sodom, LLC: The Marquis de Sade and the Modern Office Novel
On second thought it might be best to just follow the FT link.