Grabbing of 50 million Facebook profiles

Part one: The Whistleblower

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– In an era of big data and fake news political
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leaders are changing and so too the way they campaign. What you post on social
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media is being watched being used and what you see is crafted like never
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before and bestriding this vast digital
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frontier is Cambridge Analytica a company which trawls personal data to
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try to predict then alter voter behavior. A company which claims it was pivotal in
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getting Donald Trump elected – but which today extraordinarily has been suspended
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from Facebook. Through this former insider we can reveal it involves a data
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grab of not just hundreds of thousands of user profiles but around 50 million
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and accusing Cambridge Analytica of this and more their former director of
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research Chris Wylie.
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– if we look at what Cambridge Analytica does online it’s
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coercive people don’t know that it’s being done to them.
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– It’s time says Wylie
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for us to know more about the methods of Cambridge Analytica
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– Computers are
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better at understanding who you are as a person than even your co-workers or your
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friends
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This is an information war he says – social media is the battleground
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and you are the target
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it weighs on me that I played a pivotal role
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in setting up a company that I think has done a lot of harm to the democratic
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process in a lot of countries
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We begin this story in Cambridge it’s 2013 and at
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the university psychometric center they’re delving into the world of
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Facebook and psychology into what glimpses into the soul might your
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Facebook Likes revealed cutting edge research which Chris Wiley was quick to
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spot and now helps explain
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– On social media you curate yourself you put so
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much information about who you are in one single place so whenever you go and
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you like something you are giving me a clue as to who you are as a person and
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so all of this can be captured very easily and run through an algorithm that
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learns who you are when you go to work right your co-workers only see one side
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of you your friends only see one side of you
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but a computer sees all kinds of sides of you and so we can get better than
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human level accuracy at predicting your behaviour
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-really
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– yes absolutely
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– some dispute that but for Chris Wiley then just 23 the notion was as seductive
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as it was potentially lucrative – the company he worked for Strategic
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Communications Laboratories or SCL specialized in psychological operations
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for the military and for him Facebook was now the richest of canvases on which
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to not only read minds but change them which is what brought Chris Wiley to the
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attention of SEL client Steve Bannon then boss of the online magazine
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Breitbart later Donald Trump’s chief strategist
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– What did Steve Bannon want
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– Steve wanted weapons for his culture work that’s what he wanted and that’s
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that we we offered him a way to accomplish what he wanted to do which
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was which was changed the culture of America
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– Bannon’s big idea says Wiley was
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this – could they replicate the academics work
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profiling people’s personalities on Facebook on a massive scale across the
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American electorate they had the money from billionaire Republican backer
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Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebecca. And through Chris Wiley they’re
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specialist Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan – already on Facebook permitted to
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gather users data for research purposes but who now agreed to get much more and
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share it commercially. The blueprint for the company which would become Cambridge
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Analytica
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– Kogan didn’t make any money off of it he didn’t he did it he did it
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for free and what he got out of it was the giant data set and what CA got out
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of it was also data everyone got data but Cambridge Analytica paid for it
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directly – if you look here in the underlying source code –
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– which which I
04:58
wouldn’t normally see
05:00
– no you wouldn’t normally see
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– it worked like this
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thousands of Facebook users were paid to download an app to fill out a
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personality survey with their consent which in turn let Dr. Kogan capture the
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users underlying data and then share it with Cambridge Analytica
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– so very
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simplistically you’re going into the code behind the Facebook page you’re
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dragging out these ID numbers you’re putting them into a into an algorithm
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and we and outcomes a prediction of how you’re likely to vote yes simple and
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smart because the app didn’t just mine the respondents data crucially it swept
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up that of their friends to those who hadn’t adjusted their privacy settings
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imagine I go and ask you I say hey if I give you $1 $2 could you fill out the
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survey for me just do it on this app and you say fine right
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I don’t just capture what your responses are I capture all of the information
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about you from Facebook but also this app then crawls through your social
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network and captures all of that data also so by you filling out my survey I
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capture 300 records on average right and so that means that
06:13
all the sudden I only need to engage fifty thousand seventy thousand a
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hundred thousand people to get a really big dataset really quickly and it’s
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scaled really quickly it we were able to get upwards of fifty million plus
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Facebook records in the span of a couple months fifty million yeah over 50
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million records from Facebook using this using this method and how many of those
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people behind those profiles were aware that their profiles had been used in
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this way almost none almost no and so claims Wiley began a Republican Big Data
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gold rush with Steve Bannon alt-right ideologue later a Cambridge Analytica
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vice president leading the charge should those Friends profiles have been used in
06:58
the way that they were I don’t think so I think they you know it was a big
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mistake to use this methods but why Facebook didn’t you know make more
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enquiries when they started seeing that you know tens of millions of records
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were being pulled this way you know I don’t know you’d have to ask Facebook
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that but Facebook at least in a technical sense facilitated the project
07:25
because they they had applications that had these permissions in the first place
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Facebook learned of this in 2015 and yet it’s taken them until today to come out
07:37
publicly and say this never should have happened they’ve yet to acknowledge that
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this involved around 50 million users instead talking of two hundred and
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seventy thousand plus friends they’ve also been at pains to stress this wasn’t
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a data breach in the sense that users by consent and friends through their
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default privacy settings agreed to Dr. Kogan capturing their data and they say
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they’ve since improved their systems but Kogan according to Facebook lied to them
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and violated their policies by passing on the data to Cambridge Analytica at the
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time that you were taking this data off Aleksandr Kogan which was yeah
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principally only for academic research purposes you
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knew you were treading a very thin ethical line presumably I think I think
08:30
everyone I don’t think I think everyone knew that you know we were waiting into
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a grey area it’d be it was an instance of if you don’t ask questions you won’t
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get an answer that you don’t like Cambridge analytica rejects this
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arguing they had assurances from dr. Kogan that his actions were in line with
08:50
Facebook’s protocols Kogan in turn claims he had the right to use it for
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commercial purposes they and Chris Wiley all assured Facebook sometime ago that
09:02
they deleted the data as requested but Facebook have now revealed some of
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that data reportedly might still exist hence their dramatic decision to suspend
09:13
Cambridge analytica Alexander Kogan and Chris Wiley from Facebook while they
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investigate
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did you delete it immediately as I had already deleted it
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I had when they sent me when they sent me the the the letter that you’re
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referring to I didn’t have the data so did they check that you deleted the data
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no they were just satisfied with the form the only the only contact that I
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had was here’s a forum fill it out and send it back and it’s done so they took
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your word for it that you had deleted the data of over 50 million Facebook
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profiles yeah they didn’t didn’t do anything
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aside from sign this form – so just how significant was this data anyway of no
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use is Cambridge analytica’s position fruitless is how their boss described
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the project to MPs recently here in Westminster yet Chris Wiley claims it
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was anything but and foreshadowed worse to come we spent almost a million
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dollars doing this it wasn’t some tiny pilot project it was the the core of
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what Cambridge analytic I became it allowed us to to move into the the the
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hearts and minds of American voters in a way that had never been done before
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by the time Cambridge analytica had been hired by the Trump campaign – my
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first hour in office those people are gone – they had profiles from numerous
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datasets on more than 230 million Americans also Cambridge analytica
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boast – this is real data from the Republican primary enabling them as
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their boss Alexander Nix showed Channel four News two years ago to
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micro-target different personality types with bespoke emotionally resonant
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messages someone who’s neurotic is someone who’s quite emotional and might
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respond in this case to a stimulus of fear from stimulating us Republican
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campaigns to elections in Africa Asia and Beyond Cambridge analytica are now
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the big data strategists with the big name some allege however with little
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time for ethics among their number now the former insider who claims there’s a
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dangerous alchemy to Cambridge analytica’s art – there is a lack of awareness it
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is coercive people if I am studying you and I have enough information about you
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because you’ve curated your entire self online and I capture that I can I can
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anticipate what are your mental vulnerabilities what cognitive biases
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might you display in certain situations but haven’t invited I can imagine wait
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that are you saying that Cambridge analytical lies in its political
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messaging because that’s something they would completely deny they they they
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they knowingly misrepresent the truth in such a way that is conducive to their
12:24
objective what’s your proof for that I was there we worked on we worked on all
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kinds of experiments about what what what would what would lead a person from
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A to B but if you’re working on behalf of a political client you’re allowed to
12:39
try and persuade voters persuade not manipulated about your message persuade
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not manipulated there’s a difference but I ask you what
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the evidence for manipulation as opposed to trying to persuade this gets at the
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heart of you know why is it that you’re taking this psychological approach why
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do you need to you know study neuroticism in people what’s going to
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make them fearful it is the the the you know what is the what is by pre I was
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there I was there I set it up I was a research director like this is what it
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is some people might say it’s rank hypocrisy for you to sort of try and
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claim the moral high ground now but at the time when you were involved you were
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instrumental in all of this totally you yes I want to continue in fact you were
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you were at the heart of it I was I was instrumental I was at the heart of it I
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agree with you but I was naive I made a mistake I made a big mistake
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and that’s why I’m talking to you because the very least that I can do is
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to own up to that mistake why is wilee speaking out now revenge perhaps
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following an acrimonious legal dispute with Cambridge analytica after he left
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not so he says its remorse at having been involved in the first place
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Cambridge analytica denies Wiley’s claims of a coercive manipulative and
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untruthful approach dismissing dismissing these as pure fantasy
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his legal fight with them they say has left him with an axe to grind
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driven by malice and intent upon damaging the company a company which
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they stress uses techniques similar to those other commercial agencies use but
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I know that there is bad blood between you and Cambridge analytica – you had a
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falling-out you know there was a legal dispute is this really about revenge – no
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because if it was about revenge I could have done this years ago they tried to
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sue me over you know their claims that I was somehow trying to steal their
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clients or to somehow interfere with their contractual relationships with
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other employees or what have you you know and we’ll you know no I mean I
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first of all like I don’t to work for the alt-right the the notion
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that I would want to somehow recreate Cambridge analytica is for me
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personally absurd because why would I why would I why would I leave if I
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wanted to recreate Cambridge Analytica I should have just stayed great but I didn’t I
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chose to leave he is the data scientist who helped weaponize the data who
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embroiled in a growing facebook scandal now feels tainted by the new political
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order he thinks he helped create but he knows all about the power a carefully
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directed message can have he did it for Cambridge analytical back then just as
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he’s doing it against them now.

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