Cambridge Analytica, a U.K.-based data firm, sparked major controversy after revelations it used the private Facebook data of more than 50 million Americans from 2014 to 2015 without their permission in order to create psychographic profiles and help President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
The firm obtained the information through a third party personality test app called “Thisisyourdigitallife,” which is an illegal practice as such apps cannot transfer or sell user data to external organization.
The Trump campaign reportedly contracted Cambridge Analytica in 2016 and the information it had obtained through Facebook was then used to micro-target social media users, plan electoral strategies, map out voter techniques and create fake news campaigns to of then-Republican front-runner, Trump.
While it is all incredibly shady, it appears the United States wasn’t the only victim of Cambridge Analytica.
While the firm’s role in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum is still under investigation, reports have surfaced explain how the data mining company exploited racial and ethnic tensions to influence elections and manipulate democracies all across the world — including in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, India, Trinidad and Tobago and Latvia, to name a few.
The parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communication Laboratories, has a history of rendering it services to clients in at least 32 countries across North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, according to the company documents obtained by the Quartz.
While it’s unclear what services were exactly provided in these regions, the ongoing investigations in Kenya and Nigeria (among a few others) paint a pretty detailed picture of how the data analysis firm functions.
In Kenya, the company surveyed over 47,000 respondents for “the largest political research project ever conducted in East Africa” in 2013, which was the first general election in the country since the brutal 2008 violence that killed more than 1,000 people. The research was used to allegedly create an election campaign, probably for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, “based on the electorate's real needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence),” according to SCL’s website.
“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto, done two rounds of 50,000 (participant) surveys,” Mark Turnbull of Cambridge Analytica Political Global was filmed saying in a Channel 4 report. “Then we'd write all the speeches and we'd stage the whole thing — so just about every element of his campaign.”
Given the fragile nature of democracy and ethnic violence in Kenya, it is apparently more susceptible to such manipulation.
“The problem that you have in Kenya, as in a lot of these countries, is that there are these very deep underlying socio-economic tensions and ethnic divisions,” Director of Electoral Programs at the National Democratic Institute Patrick Merloe told the Think Progress. “The kind of politics that were talking about is feeding on and reflecting those underlying social tensions.”
In Latvia, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company reportedly helped a nationalist client run a premeditated disinformation campaign to fuel ethnic tensions between Latvians and Russian residents.
“In essence, Russians were blamed for unemployment and other problems affecting the economy,” read the SCL document, according to the Bloomberg. The campaign apparently helped the anonymous client secure a victory.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the group allegedly used graffiti slogans around the island that “ostensibly was posted by young Trinidadians” to bolster a certain candidate.
“The client was then able to ’adopt’ related policies and claim credit for listening to a ‘united youth,’” read the SCL document.
While the global footprint of Cambridge Analytica and its affiliated groups is still under investigation, the extent of their activities is certainly disturbing.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Baz Ratner