Though the Congress has denied it has any links with Cambridge Analytica, the company accused of stealing Facebook data to influence elections, a documentary released last year by journalist and tech blogger Jamie Bartlett throws up an image the Congress may have hard time to explain.The Persuasion Machine, the last of the two-part documentary series for the BBC, ‘Secrets of the SIlicon Valley’, shows Bartlett meeting Cambridge Analytica’s now-suspended CEO Alexander Nix in his London office. As Bartlett enters Nix’s room, he stands up and greets him. Right behind Nix, on the wall, is a poster showing the ‘hand’ symbol of the Congress party. Below the hand is written “Congress” in bold letters. The posters carries the slogan ‘Development for all’.
Bartlett’s documentary probes the role of technology in the election campaign of US President Donald Trump. Nix is one of the many people he interviews. Though Nix says nothing about the operations of Cambridge Analytica in India and talks about only the Trump campaign, the Congress poster on the wall behind him looks like proud showcasing of a big client.
In ‘The Persuasion Machine’, Bartlett narrates how Silicon Valley has opened a new frontier—controlling political expression and behaviour of the masses. “It was the biggest political earthquake of the century. But just how did Donald Trump defy the predictions of political pundits and pollsters?” begins Bartlett. After Nix explains how the company created psychographic profiles of voters, Bartlett asks, “Where did all the information to predict voters’ personalities come from?” Nix says,”Very originally, we used a combination of telephone surveys and then we used a number of online platforms for gathering questions. As we started to gather more data, we started to look at other platforms such as Facebook, for instance.”When Bartlett wonders if some people would find it a little bit creepy to predict a voter’s personality to persuade him, Nix says, “No, I can’t. Quite the opposite. I think that the move away from blanket advertising, the move towards ever more personalised communication is a very natural progression. I think it is only going to increase.”Justifying the company using personal data people put in the public domain, Nix gives the example of a supermarket loyalty card where people get points and the company gathers the data on consumer behaviour. But Bartlett is puzzled. “I mean, we are talking about politics and we’re talking about shopping. Are they really the same thing?” he asks. Nix replies, “The technology is the same. In the next 10 years, the sheer volumes of data that are going to be available, that are going to be driving all sorts of things including marketing and communications, is going to be a paradigm shift from where we are now and it’s going to be a revolution, and that is the way the world is moving. And, you know, I think, whether you like it or not, it is an inevitable fact.”For more than a week, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have traded charges, accusing each other of having been clients of Cambridge Analytica. Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower at the heart of the Facebook privacy scandal, told British lawmakers yesterday that he “believes” Congress was the company’s client. The Congress denies it has anything to do with Cambridge Analytica. However, Alexander Nix was not shy of displaying the Congress poster in his own office.
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