Spill Cleanup

Cambridge Analytica's "internal Ponzi scheme;" the power of IRL organizing; and more.


  • Life in Facebookistan: A new Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser, is talking to the Guardian’s Paul Lewis and Paul Hilder, because she says “I’m so tired of making excuses for old white men.”

  • One interesting fact she shares: back in 2007, when she first learned digital organizing working alongside Chris Hughes inside the early Obama campaign, Hughes was able to get Facebook—the company he helped start—make changes in its platform that specifically helped the campaign deal with the flood of attention it was getting via the company. It’s yet one more example of the ways Facebook has subtly influenced politics to the benefit of particular parties or candidates.

  • Writing for Mother Jones, Andy Kroll digs deep into Cambridge Analytica’s work on the 2016 presidential campaign and shows that quite a bit of what it claimed to be doing was essentially vaporware. One former official with Ted Cruz’s campaign, who had hired CA before it went over to Trump, said “It was like an internal Ponzi scheme.”

  • The company’s use of dozens of non-US citizens in its work on behalf of Republican candidates in 2014 may have violated the law, Craig Timberg and Tom Hamburger report for The Washington Post.

  • Writing for The Verge, Alexandra Samuel shares some tales out of school from the wild west period of digital marketing, wherever everybody was in on the fact that you could set up pages and apps on Facebook in order to harvest millions of user profiles.

  • This long profile of Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor turned tough critic of the company, is full of fresh observations. One is on the power of the company’s PR operation, which somehow got Chamath Palihapititya to recant his having said that he felt “tremendous guilt” about his work for the company. And the other is this gem: “The two most influential people on [Facebook’s] board of directors over the last seven to eight years have been Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, both of whom are brilliant men whose economic and political philosophy is deeply libertarian.”

  • For years, Facebook pulled call and text message data from people’s Android phones, since some old versions of the Android operating system allowed it to do so, and it used that information as part of its friend recommendation algorithm. Not everyone is happy to discover this, as Sean Gallagher reports for ArsTechnica. Apple has never allowed such access to call data.

  • The core business model for Facebook, Google and other big tech companies is under real stress, David Streitfeld, Natasha Singer and Steven Erlanger report for The New York Times.

  • Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are expressing renewed interest in stronger privacy legislation, Tony Romm reports for The Washington Post. “I think that this privacy spill is politically the equivalent of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). “Because it involves our very democracy, I think [it] is going to draw more attention of the American public to this issue.”

  • Decentralized social networks like Mastadon have seen a mini-surge in interest in the past week, Brian Fung reports for The Washington Post.

  • Don’t say they didn’t warn you: Back in the summer of 2012, Joseph Turow, Michael X. Delli Carpini, Nora Draper and Rowan Howard-Williams of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication released a national survey on public attitudes toward targeted political advertising that found that 86% of Americans didn’t want political ads to be tailored to their interested, and 85% agreed with the statement that If I found out that Facebook was sending me ads for political candidates based on my profile information that I had set to private, I would be angry.”

  • Just 41% of Americans trust Facebook to obey US privacy laws, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds, compared to 66% who trust Amazon, 62% who trust Google and 60% who trust Microsoft.

  • Is an ad-tech meltdown coming? “What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking their readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides ‘interest-based’ advertising?” Doc Searls asks a really good question.

  • Opposition watch: Want to see pictures from the hundreds of local #MarchForOurLives that didn’t get national media attention? BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen has you covered, via some smart crowdsourcing on Twitter.

  • Organizing matters. That’s the lesson of this well-reported story by Alan Blinder, Jess Bidgood and Vivian Wang in the New York Times on how so many local marches came together.

  • Brave new world: Cities still have a chance to “shape the future of autonomous vehicles and ensure they are part of holistic efforts to improve equity and quality of life for all residents,” Susan Crawford writes for Wired, reflecting on last week’s news of a pedestrian in Arizona killed by a self-driving Uber test car. She points out that the state of Arizona had done the opposite, welcoming Uber in with “virtually no oversight.”

  • Tech and politics: Congress included $380 million for election security funding in the omnibus bill that was just signed into law, which Adam Ambrogi, director of the Democracy Fund’s Election Program called “a win and a recognition that [this] is an important responsibility.” The money will go to the Election Assistance Commission, which will disburse it to the states “to replace aging voting machines, implement post-election audits, and provide cybersecurity training for state and local officials, among other election security related improvements,” Brennan Weiss writes for Business Insider.

  • The workers at Revolution Messaging, a tech strategy firm that worked on the Sanders campaign among many others, have unionized.

  • Media matters: I missed this when it came out, but it’s just too good not to share: Remember when the New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote a column about what he learned from unplugging from social media for two months and just reading slower-moving print news? Turns out he never left the Internet at all, tweeting perhaps 1,000 times, as Dan Mitchell reported for the Columbia Journalism Review.

  • Your moment of zen.