Opinion

The Cambridge Analytica scandal: Proof advertising is a major menace to society

The Guardian's expose on Cambridge Analytica has set off serious alarm bells about how political operatives are secretly using data mined by our industry, writes Bob Hoffman.

When I wrote BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace, I started it with a frightening quote from a creep named Alexander Nix, who is CEO of a company called Cambridge Analytica.

In the past 48 hours, Cambridge Analytica, its unsavory connection to Facebook, and each company’s role in the tarnishing of the 2016 presidential election have been front page news all over the world. The dangers I contemplated in BadMen have come to life in ways I hoped were just my own paranoid fantasies.

I hope you will read this not as political commentary but as a real-world example of the dangers of ad tech, tracking, and surveillance marketing – how they undermined the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and the dangers they pose to free societies.

Here’s the outline of the story: this week, The Guardian and The New York Times published a very damaging story about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The story claimed that Cambridge had underhandedly obtained access to the Facebook files of 50 million Americans and exploited them during the 2016 presidential election. They claimed they destroyed the files, but didn’t. In fact, they may still have them.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie. Source: The Guardian

Trying to deflect attention, hours before the publication of the story, Facebook suspended the accounts of two people, one of whom was Christopher Wylie (the man you see pictured above.) Wylie is a former data scientist for Cambridge Analytica and was a major source for the horrifying story.

According to CBS news, “Facebook’s release about the suspensions came just hours before exposés about the company’s practices were published in The New York Times and the Guardian.” In other words, Facebook was doing what it always does when it’s busted – throw shit in our face to create misdirection about its irresponsible activities.

Rather than recap the whole sordid story, I urge you to watch this video of Wylie and his tale of how Cambridge Analytica took advantage of Facebook’s policies, conned Steve Bannon, and exploited tens of millions of Facebook accounts for the purpose of influencing the election.

Regardless of your political affiliations, this story should set off alarm bells about how political operatives can and are secretly using data mined by the ad industry to undermine acceptable standards of civil discourse.

If you’re still not convinced that we have to stop these data creeps from continuing their relentless collection and selling of our personal private information, and if you’re still not convinced that the advertising industry has gone from “a minor annoyance to a major menace,” I think this video will do the trick.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog.

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