Cambridge Analytica: Harvester of (Data) Sorrows

You thought you were just clicking on viral cat videos, but it turns out you were really helping Steve Bannon build a “psychological warfare mindf**k tool.” Signal’s own Tsar of All the Technologies @kevinallison has some thoughts on what it means:


Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that worked with the Trump campaign, allegedly obtained the personal data of more than 50 million Facebook users harvested by an outside researcher under dubious terms. They then used the data to mount a sophisticated voter influence strategy ahead of the election. Facebook is now under fire both for allowing users’ data to leak and for allegedly failing to ensure that it was deleted afterwards.

The episode is a nice example of the “hacking democracy’s software” idea that we tried out on you a few weeks ago, and it throws a harsh light on a pressing question: in a world where social media platforms are increasingly both the battleground — and the fodder — for political clashes: is a democracy only as supple as its privacy settings?

In that vein, it’s worth noting that the three largest economic zones on Earth differ significantly in how they treat privacy. Europe gives people the last word on how their personal data can be used — and imposes harsh penalties on rule-breakers. In China, it’s the government that has the real sovereignty over all data and information flows (Russia and Turkey are trying fitfully to do the same.)

But in the US, apart from some sector-specific exceptions such as healthcare and a general ban on deceptive trading practices, it falls to private companies to set their own privacy policies on their platforms. As Facebook and others have found out, profit-seeking, politics, and privacy don’t always fit together neatly. Capitol Hill is already circling around Facebook on this issue — is there a rude regulatory awakening in store for all the US tech giants?

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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