Using Facebook profiles to target voters, without permission; screens talking back; and more.
Tech and the presidentials: Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, now surging, is using a data analytics firm whose prime product is a database of millions of Facebook users whose profile information was “harvested largely without their permission,” Harry Davies reports for The Guardian. The firm, Cambridge Analytica, which specializes in “behavioral microtargeting,” claims to be able to match Facebook data to existing voter data. Its Facebook database was reportedly obtained by an academic who paid Mechanical Turk users to let him access their Facebook profiles, which allowed him not only to harvest their personal data and likes, but also those of their friends.
The ACLU’s chief technologist, Christopher Soghoian, said the Guardian’s findings were “troubling,” adding, ““What it essentially means is there is no one regulating campaigns’ privacy data and security practices. So it means you have a wild west, where the campaigns can do whatever they want and get away with it.” It’s worth noting that in 2012, the Obama campaign built a similar (but much larger) dataset of Facebook users through its “I’m in” app and Targeted Sharing project.
A coalition of liberal and Muslim advocacy groups organized by online advocacy group CREDO Action are calling on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to back away from retired General Wesley Clark, a campaign surrogate who recently called for the internment of some American Muslims, Alex Seitz-Wald reports for MSNBC.com.
Don’t miss our Christine Capaiuolo’s report for our new “Rethinking Debates” series on how Twitter finally managed to get a real-time comment from someone watching a presidential debate into the actual debate. As Twitter’s director of news Adam Sharp told her, ““For 55 years, we’ve all been yelling at the screens in presidential debates…This is really the first time the screen talked back.”
Media and democracy: If, as Craig Newmark of Craigslist likes to say, “the media are the immune system of democracy,” then this article by Marc Levy in the Cambridge Day, decisively debunking an attack on a local Muslim city councillor by Breitbart.com, is a great example. We’re going to need a lot of this kind of journalism, because anti-Muslim hysteria in America has never been greater. Notably, the Breitbart story appeared in the sponsored news feeds of many Cambridge residents, suggesting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to defend Muslims may need a little work.
Related: If you’ve ever doubted the value of a seemingly obscure report by a gadfly good-government group on the political process, read David Howard King’s story in the Gotham Gazette on how the New York Metropolitan Council on Housing’s 2013 report on how real-estate moguls were abusing a giant loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws set off the corruption inquiry that took down Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The reform battle isn’t won yet, to be sure.
This is civic tech: Marcus Westbury and his Renew Newcastle nonprofit, which is credited with catalyzing the turnaround of that once-depressed Australian city, gets a lavish and well-deserved write-up in The New Republic by Greg Lindsay. “What we’ve done is change the software of the city,” Westbury says. “We’ve changed how it behaves. We’ve changed how it responds to people who want to try things, do things, and run their own experiments.”
Here’s our Nick Judd, writing the same story on Newcastle and Westbury for techPresident, nearly five years ago.
Very belated but still worth noting: this analysis by Alex Hill of Detroitography shows not just the harsh effects of Detroit’s digital divide, but the “promising” value of the Improve Detroit (aka SeeClickFix) smartphone app, which is drawing user submissions from across the city. (h/t Ben Berkowitz)
The Knight Foundation announced $1.2 million in funding for CODE2040, which works to close the diversity gap in tech, building on an earlier grant of $400,000 in 2014 as part of its News Challenge cycle on strengthening the Internet. The money will help expand CODE2040’s Fellows Program, which places black and Hispanic software engineering students into internships with top tech companies, and its Technical Application Prep program which prepares students for tech careers through coaching, mentoring, retreats, and workshops.
What sharing economy? Uber is lobbying hard to get Ohio and Florida to join Arkansas, North Carolina, and Indiana in classifying its drivers as independent contractors, not employees, as Andrew Hawkins reports for The Verge.