Cambridge Analytica's chief executive officer Alexander Nix gives an interview during the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon on November 9, 2017 (Photo credit: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON (CBS NEWS) — An undercover British news report on the practices of a data analytics firm that worked with President Trump’s campaign features members of the firm’s upper management discussing possible tactics that could influence elections, according to CBS News.
“We’re used to operating through different vehicles in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long term and secretive relationship with you.”
Nix and two of his colleagues described a variety of underhanded methods they could use to influence elections, including but not limited to staging, filming and publishing fake bribery or sex worker stings against opponents, using former spies to conduct intelligence-gathering on political foes and various shades of online voter profiling.
The network aired the exposé Monday evening — its reporters spoke with senior members of the company, including Nix, managing director Mark Turnbull and chief data officer Dr. Alex Tayler.
“The two fundamental human driver when it comes to taking information on board effectively are hopes and fears, and many of those are unspoken and the even unconscious — you didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you,” Turnbull explained in a meeting with a reporter posing as “Ranjan,” a prospective client from Sri Lanka.
He continued, “And our job is to get, is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns. There is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it’s all about emotion.”
Turnbull said the data firm often digs up damaging information on politicians for its clients and discreetly pushes the information on the Internet.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again like a remote control,” he said. “It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think, ‘That’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘Who’s put that out?’ So we have to be subtle.”
To hide its involvement, Turnbull said Cambridge Analytica often uses subcontractors to cover its tracks. “It may be that we have to contract under a different name — a different entity with a different name so that no record exists with our name attached to it at all,” he explained.
Turnbull also spoke with pride about the firm’s involvement in the election of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in both 2013 and 2017. That campaign ended in violence on the streets, and was marked by huge amounts of misinformation and negative smear advertising, hooking into those so-called hopes and fears.
“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto, done two rounds of 50,000 surveys … and then we’d write all the speeches and we’d stage the whole thing, so just about every element of his campaign,” he said.
The company came under fire after Facebook suspended the data firm accusing it of violating its terms of services and storing data extracted from tens of millions of Facebook profiles.
Facebook alleges that users’ data was taken without their permission, but in reality, it was extracted using a loophole in Facebook’s app ecosystem at the time. Cambridge Analytica said a researcher built an app that provided a personality quiz to Facebook users, but Facebook claims the researcher then “lied to us” and passed the content onto Cambridge Analytica. That firm then used the data to build “psychographic profiles” about voters.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has announced that her office is launching an investigation into the data usage. Politicians in both the U.S. and the U.K. are demanding that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explain how the data theft occurred and how the company plans to protect consumers.