Over the past few days, Facebook said it received reports (from sources it would not identify) that not all of the data Cambridge Analytica, Kogan, and Wylie collected had been deleted. While Facebook investigates the matter further, the company said it had taken the step to suspend the Cambridge Analytica account.
Depending on who you ask, UK-based Cambridge Analytica either played a pivotal role in the U.S. presidential election or cooked up an effective marketing myth to spin into future business. Last year, a handful of former Trump aides and Republican consultants dismissed the potency of Cambridge Analytica’s so-called secret sauce as “exaggerated” in a profile by the New York Times.
In an interview with TechCrunch late last year, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix said that his company had detailed hundreds of thousands of profiles of Americans throughout 2014 and 2015 (the time when the company was working with Sen. Ted Cruz on his presidential campaign).
…We used psychographics all through the 2014 midterms. We used psychographics all through the Cruz and Carson primaries. But when we got to Trump’s campaign in June 2016, whenever it was, there it was there was five and a half months till the elections. We just didn’t have the time to rollout that survey. I mean, Christ, we had to build all the IT, all the infrastructure. There was nothing. There was 30 people on his campaign. Thirty. Even Walker it had 160 (it’s probably why he went bust). And he was the first to crash out. So as I’ve said to other of your [journalist] colleagues, clearly there’s psychographic data that’s baked-in to legacy models that we built before, because we’re not reinventing the wheel. [We’ve been] using models that are based on models, that are based on models, and we’ve been building these models for nearly four years. And all of those models had psychographics in them. But did we go out and rollout a long form quantitive psychographics survey specifically for Trump supporters? No. We just didn’t have time. We just couldn’t do that.
It’s likely that some of that psychographic data came from information culled by Kogan. The tools that Cambridge Analytica deployed have been at the heart of recent criticism of Facebook’s approach to handling advertising and promoted posts on the social media platform.
Nix credits the fact that advertising was ahead of most political messaging and that traditional political operatives hadn’t figured out that the tools used for creating ad campaigns could be so effective in the political arena.
There’s no question that the marketing and advertising world is ahead of the political marketing the political communications world. And there are some things that I would definitely [say] I’m very proud of that we’re doing which are innovative. And there are some things which is best practice digital advertising, best practice communications which we’re taking from the commercial world and are bringing into politics.
Advertising agencies are using some of these techniques on a national scale. For us it’s been very refreshing, really breaking into the commercial and brand space… walking into a campaign where you’re basically trying to educate the market on stuff they simply don’t understand. You walk into a sophisticated brand or into an advertising agency, and the conversation [is sophisticated] You go straight down to: “Ah, so you’re doing a programmatic campaign, you can augment that with some linear optimized data… they understand it.” They know it’s their world, and now it comes down to the nuances. “So what exactly are you doing that’s going to be a bit more effective and give us an extra 3 percent or 4 percent there.” It’s a delight. You know these are professionals who really get this world and that’s where we want to be operating.