Cambridge Analytica used misleading presentations in meetings with potential clients

A new article published in Mother Jones shows how Cambridge Analytica positioned itself to potential clients after the election of Donald Trump.

After the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, stories began circulating about how a relatively obscure data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica had helped the campaign win by using an innovative blend of digital microtargeting and psychological tactics to appeal to voters.

It was good publicity for the data firm. One Cambridge director likened the amount of client interest they were receiving to “drinking from a fire hose.”

Then scandal hit the firm in March 2018. A former Cambridge Analytica employee named Christopher Wylie has in recent weeks provided details about the inner workings of the firm, including how it collected data from potentially more than 50 million Facebook users. On March 19, Channel 4 released hidden camera footage of now-suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO discussing how his firm can use ex-spies to dig up dirt on political opponents, swing elections in foreign countries, and use “fake news” to change public opinion.

 Now, an article published on Friday by Mother Jones shows how the data firm positioned itself in pitch meetings with potential clients following the election of Donald Trump. As Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll wrote, it’s pretty misleading.

 In a presentation entitled “Data-driven behavior change,” the firm positions itself as one that “put Donald Trump in the White House,” and explains how it uses personal user data and psychological research to tailor messaging to individual consumers or voters. The firm’s psychographic approach takes information collected from individuals’ social media profiles—magazine subscriptions, religious affiliation, hobbies—and uses it to estimate where users rank according to the Big Five personality traits: openness, extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness.

The firm would then be able, the idea goes, to estimate which kind of messaging would be most effective for certain individuals – even ones that seem remarkably similar on paper.

In the presentation, the firm provides some A/B examples from ad campaigns for major clients like Ford, American Express, and Coca-Cola.

“The implication and the inferences are that [Cambridge Analytica] did this work,” Bill Wilson, president of the Market Research Foundation, a conservative data analytics organization, told Mother Jones.

But Cambridge Analytica was never hired by Ford, American Express, or Coca-Cola. A Democratic digital strategist told Mother Jones:

“When a vendor shows us their marketing materials with sample work for big brand names, the expectation is that those examples are projects they have actually worked on—not theoretical work.”

A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said in a statement: “These were illustrations or mock-ups of how the Cambridge Analytica approach could potentially work for brands, and were used in pitch meetings to help visualize our services. We do not claim that we have worked for these particular brands and we always make it very clear that these are not case studies. Any suggestion that Cambridge Analytica has claimed to work for these brands is false.”

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. (Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty)

Cambridge Analytica seems to have a history of not being completely honest about its capabilities. In 2015, the firm told the Ted Cruz campaign it would use an innovative microtargeting software called Ripon to help the Republic team gain an edge over competitors. But that software didn’t exist at the time.

“It’ll never exist,” a Cambridge consultant told several Cruz staffers after repeatedly telling them the software was almost ready. “I’ve just resigned because I can’t stand lying to you every day anymore.”

The firm also reportedly lied when it provided Facebook with certifications claiming it had deleted massive amounts of Facebook user data in 2015. That Facebook didn’t do more to ensure Cambridge Analytica had deleted the data is a key point in the current scandal involving the social media platform.

Alexander Nix is scheduled to appear in front of British lawmakers on April 17 to shed light on some inconsistencies in testimony he provided in February.  

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Extreme opponents of GM foods know the least science, but think they know the most

New research on the public's opinion about genetically modified foods illustrates an alarming cognitive bias.

(Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Mind & Brain
  • A recent study compared the public's scientific literacy with their attitudes on GM foods.
  • The results showed that "as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up."
  • The results also suggest that, in terms of policy efforts to boost scientific literacy, education about a given topic alone isn't going to be enough.
Keep reading Show less