Dark Ads : Psychological Profiles Weaponized
One of the biggest stories to come out of the election aftermath was the use of Social Media as a means for Donald Trump to sidestep news organizations; press conferences; and questions. Twitter is Mr. Trump's go-to forum to reach out to his constituents -- the one place where you'll find out what's on his mind, day or middle-of-the-night, in 140 character bites including exclamation points.
What has gone largely unnoticed, by design, was the campaign led by Jared Kushner, son-in-law to Trump, who, with the help of a social profiling aggregator based in London, waged a social engineering attack on Facebook that was used to great effect. On November 19th, The New York Times published an article written by McKenzie Funk:
It's here we find out about a company, Cambridge Analytica, who'd been gathering freely given information offered to them via quizzes on Facebook. You know, the quizzes that pop-up in your feed, often recommended by a friend who has just taken the quiz and discovered some aspect of their personality, then shared with all of their friends? Seems harmless. Well. Not so.
Those answers we've willingly supplied on a lark are being used specifically. In the case of this company, that only takes on Republican clients, the information gathered is aggregated over time, to provide a profile of each user. They have collected unique information on 230 million Americans. When a Republican candidate hires Cambridge Analytica to target messages, in the case of the last Presidential election, to both Republicans and Democrats, those messages are geared to the personality of the receiver to exact a certain result. A bit Orwellian, and creepy, to boot.
How many people would be taking these quizzes if they knew the end use? My guess is not many at all.
Meet the Mercers
Cambridge Analytica has an interesting background. The firm was used in the Brexit campaign. There was an infusion of cash that tracks back to Robert Mercer, who made the bulk of his wealth operating a hedge fund. He has three daughters; his middle daughter, Rebekah, who is on Trump's executive transition team, is in charge of dispersing money from her family foundation to Republican causes. They backed Ted Cruz early on, then shifted their money; connections; and data company services to Trump. Rebekah has much influence on who gets in front of Trump. You can thank her for: Steve Bannon; Kellyanne Conway; Jeff Sessions; and pushing hard for John Bolton.
The rise of GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer | by Matea Gold | The Washington Post | 09.14.16
The heiress quietly shaping Trump’s operation - Major GOP donor Rebekah Mercer has funded many of the groups and figures helping to assemble Trump's team, and now she's formally part of it. | by Kenneth P. Vogel | Politico | 11.21.16
What Does The Billionaire Family Backing Donald Trump Really Want? The Mercers are enjoying more influence than ever with their candidate in the White House -- but no one seems to know how they intend to use it. | by Rosie Grey | The Atlantic | 01.17.17
Bold Promises Fade to Doubts for a Trump - Linked Data Firm | by Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim | The New York Times | 02.06.17
This Week in Tech, starting at the 3 minute mark, discusses the Trump campaign's use of dark ads to sway votes: