Did somebody say Brexit? Cambridge Analytica grilled: Brit MPs' Fake News probe

We weren't involved in Leave, says data co boss

The daughter of Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt interned at controversial data company Cambridge Analytica, the company’s CEO confirmed today to the UK's Culture Media and Sport select committee.

MPs at Westminster, London, were turning Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix upside-down today in the hope that evidence of a sinister political conspiracy would fall out of his pockets.

The select committee of Fun* is currently running an enquiry into political propaganda ("Fake News") and regards the company as relevant. You can see why.

Cambridge Analytica is a young offshoot of an older UK company, Strategic Communications Laboratories, now the SCL Group. SCL claims in its marketing to have influenced elections worldwide. The quant tycoon (and former IBM researcher) Robert Mercer, whose family funded Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, bought into the operation (investing $5m).

In the US, Cambridge Analytica appointed Steve Bannon to its board. Over here, in a public statement, Cambridge Analytica claimed to have joined the Leave.EU campaign. Hello hello hello. What was it up to?

Eton-educated CEO Nix described the business as a marketing analytics and prediction operation - SCL was created by an ad man - where 75 per cent of the activity was commercial work for brands, although it also undertook public information campaigns and influencer work for Government on topics such as counter-terrorism and organised crime.

Nix strongly refuted being involved on either side of the EU referendum, twice. (Because one MP repeated chairman Damian Collins questions 20 minutes after Collins.)

The three pieces of evidence for this – as discussed by the committee today – were

  1. two tweets by Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore,
  2. the presence of a CA employee at a Leave.EU press conference,
  3. and a press release from Cambridge Analytica itself, claiming it had “teamed up” with Leave.EU.

Leave.EU and UKIP donor Aaron Banks has denied it was ever involved - too expensive, he says - but MPs pressed Nix on it.

Nix said Cambridge Analytica had never been involved in any UK election (it was formed to try to crack the United States market), and that “no paid or unpaid” work had been done “with [Leave.EU] or any other organisation.”

The press release? That was released “in anticipation of work with that organisation” and that no deal was signed, he claimed. It had been “drafted by a slightly overzealous PR consultant… work was never undertaken. The moment that it went out we tried to correct the press again, and again, and again,” said Nix.

And the press conference?

“When exploring a working relationship with a client it is not unusual to speak in public together,” said Nix.

Cambridge Analytica was working for two Republican Presidential candidates in 2016 – Senator Ted Cruz and Republican candidate Ben Carson – and joined Team Trump only after he had secured the nomination. Nix played down the outfit’s influence.

“When we joined the Trump Campaign we had five-and-a-half months to go before polling, and had to rebuild the entire analytic capability. We simply did not have the time and resources to go into the same depth we provided to the Cruz campaign… We focused on data and analytics and the technology and digital and TV elements … there was no time to bake in the behavioural approach or the psychographics we used on Cruz.”

The Google connection was unexpected, but sounded tenuous. “[Eric Schmidt's daughter Sophie Schmidt] did not introduce me to her father or [to] Peter Thiel,” Nix said. Thiel’s own CIA-backed data analytics operation Palantir can be thought of as competing with SCL.

Nix also denied using bots, a preoccupation for the Committee.

“That goes back to the era of blanket advertising and spamming people with irrelevant information,” he told the Committee. “We’re trying to get away from anything that could be construed as mass communication. We’re trying to build an individual relationship between brands and their customers.”

Nix also denied CA was a data miner. “We use large data sets and try and find patterns in that data, and make predictions about audiences. We’re just running algorithms on that data to find meaning in it.”

Oh. And the Bannon connection?

“Steve Bannon was on board to help a new company, a British company, to enter a new market,” said Nix. Who could be better than Bannon, who understood commerce and business via Goldman Sachs and the media landscape, Nix asked?

With the Mercers investing in both Cambridge Analytica and the Breitbart operation that Bannon ran, one wonders just how exhaustive the search for such a man was.

The session left Nix in a tricky spot - just not the one the MPs imagined. He had to talk up the company’s brilliance while simultaneously downplaying it. Perhaps it just hadn't been all that influential, or useful?

Trump, Brexit, and Cambridge Analytica – not quite the dystopia you're looking for


A New York Times report on Cambridge Analytica’s success in the US was highly sceptical of its effectiveness. The operation had cost Cruz plenty, but its data was “unreliable”.

The psychologist who devised Cambridge's psychometric analysis was sceptical when The Register interviewed him last year:

"I think people are getting upset about it because they need a scapegoat. Back when Obama used similar methods just calling them different names, no liberals were losing their sleep," said Dr Michal Kosinski. "They also did not care when Hillary was spending way more money on personalised political marketing delivered by people way more competent than those working for Trump."

And how reliable were the predictions for Team Trump, one wonders, if the candidate himself didn’t expect to win? ®

* The Select committee of Culture, Media and Sport

Send us news

American Airlines decides to cruise into Azure's cloud

So that's who to blame when its IT crashes, huh?

American Airlines named Microsoft Azure its preferred cloud platform this week in a deal it says will cut costs, boost efficiency, and support its eco-sustainability goals.

The multi-year partnership will see American migrate its data warehousing and legacy applications to a single operations hub on Azure.

The airline touts the partnership as an opportunity to use data and analytics to improve operations. American believes this will allow it to speed up bag tracking, enable preemptive rerouting based on weather conditions, and simulate larger changes using digital twins.

Continue reading

Ready for testing: First-ever supercomputer powered by Intel's wildcard AI chips

At the Haba, go, go Habana. The hottest research north of Havana

The University of San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) says it's ready to run test workloads on its experimental Voyager AI system, which looks to be the first-ever Intel Habana-based supercomputer.

The supercomputer was built in collaboration with Intel's Habana Labs and Supermicro as part of a five-year $11.5 million grant from America's National Science Foundation. And while powerful, Voyager isn't trying to win any benchmark records — it's not supposed to.

Voyager is intended to be a proving ground for AI/ML computing research and development on specialized hardware — in this case, Habana's Goya and Gaudi processors — Voyager Principal Investigator Amit Majumdar told The Register.

Continue reading

Landmark case recognizes Bored Ape NFT as an asset

Singapore issues injunction against the sale of image procured through questionable foreclosure

For the first time, a court has issued an injunction to stop the sale and transfer of a non-fungible token (NFT) at the request of a previous owner.

Continue reading

Hot glare of the spotlight doesn’t slow BlackByte ransomware gang

Crew's raids continue worldwide, Talos team warns

The US government's alert three months ago warning businesses and government agencies about the threat of BlackByte has apparently done little to slow down the ransomware group's activities.

Since March, the group, and other gangs using its malware, have continued to attack targets around the world, redesigning their website from which they leak data stolen from organizations, and snaring fresh victims, according to analysts at Talos, Cisco Systems' threat intelligence group.

"The ransomware group and its affiliates have infected victims all over the world, from North America to Colombia, the Netherlands, China, Mexico and Vietnam," the threat hunters noted in a write-up Wednesday. "Talos has been monitoring BlackByte for several months and we can confirm they are still active after the FBI released a joint cybersecurity advisory."

Continue reading

BT: 'Quantum radios' could boost 5G network range

Tech exploits electromagnetically induced transparency to form highly sensitive electric field detector

Brit telecoms giant BT is undertaking a trial of new antenna technology that may boost the range of 5G networks and reduce mobile network energy consumption.

The receiver technology works by exploiting a quantum effect called "electromagnetically induced transparency" to form a highly sensitive electric field detector. According to BT, this could theoretically make it over 100 times more sensitive than traditional receivers, allowing it to detect weaker signals and thus extend the range of a mobile network deployment.

Regular readers will no doubt have become twitchy at the mention of the word "quantum" so we asked BT if it could supply us with a simple explanation of how the new antenna technology works. It told us:

Continue reading

Logitech Pop: Stylish, portable, but far from the best typing experience

For tiny Venn diagram wedge who want the feel of a mechanical keyboard plus, er, emoji keys

So many mechanical keyboards put function ahead of form. Put less charitably, they're ugly as sin. The Logitech Pop, a $100 wireless mechanical keyboard, tries to play both sides of the field.

Continue reading

Google's first report on Privacy Sandbox hits UK watchdog's inbox

No 'reportable concerns' yet plenty of concerned feedback

As Google's self-imposed "late 2023" deadline to kill all third party cookies in its Chrome browser looms, the giant has handed in its first quarterly Privacy Sandbox report to the UK's competition regulator.

As a reminder, the Competition Market's Authority (CMA) took exception to Google's Privacy Sandbox cookie cull amid worries on several fronts that the project might shut out competing ad companies in favor of the search giant.

Against a backdrop of added scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in the US, Europe, and the UK at a time when Google faces broad antitrust scrutiny and litigation, the search giant made a number of commitments to the UK's CMA, one of which was a regular report on progress with its Privacy Sandbox proposals.

Continue reading

Despite ban, China surges back to second place on bitcoin mining charts

Miners behind the Great Firewall may never have downed tools, say Cambridge crypto-boffins

China has become the world’s second most prolific miner of bitcoin – or maybe it always was – according to new data from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF).

The Centre on Tuesday announced its latest hashrate data analysing activity from September 2021 to January 2022 and found the USA is home to 37.84 percent of mining capacity, ahead of China at 21.11 percent, Kazakhstan ‘s 13.22 percent and Canada’s 6.48 percent.

China banned mining and trading cryptocurrency in May 2021 – and re-iterated that ban in fact it did so several times in 2021 alone, and on other occasions in preceding years.

Continue reading

Microsoft-backed robovans to deliver grub in London

British startup Wayve gets supercomputing leg up

Microsoft is pumping supercomputing oomph as well as funds into a British-born autonomous vehicle startup.

On Wednesday Wayve, the upstart in question, confirmed it has struck a deal with Microsoft – not surprising since Redmond has already sunk a chunk of change into the business – to use Azure to train next-gen self-driving machines from data collected from human drivers out on the road. Richard Branson, Meta AI Chief Yann LeCun, and other heavyweights are also early investors alongside the Windows giant.

"Joining forces with Microsoft to design the supercomputing infrastructure needed to accelerate deep learning for autonomous mobility is an opportunity that we are honored to lead," said Alex Kendall, CEO of Wayve.

Continue reading

Voyager 1 space probe producing ‘anomalous telemetry data’

Engineers debugging at 160 bits per second, with 41 hours latency

NASA engineers are investigating anomalous telemetry data produced by venerable space probe Voyager 1.

A Wednesday announcment states that the probe is operating normally, receiving and executing commands from Earth, and still doing science and phoning home with data.

But Voyager 1’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) – kit that helps point the probe’s antenna towards Earth - does not currently “reflect what’s actually happening onboard.”

Continue reading

Your snoozing iOS 15 iPhone may actually be sleeping with one antenna open

No, you're not really gonna be hacked. But you may be surprised

Some research into the potentially exploitable low-power state of iPhones has sparked headlines this week.

While pretty much no one is going to utilize the study's findings to attack Apple users in any meaningful way, and only the most high-profile targets may find themselves troubled by all this, it at least provides some insight into what exactly your iOS handheld is up to when it's seemingly off or asleep. Or none of this is news to you. We'll see.

According to the research, an Apple iPhone that goes asleep into low-power mode or is turned off isn't necessarily protected against surveillance. That's because some parts of it are still operating at low power.

Continue reading