Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a privately held company that combines data mining and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company SCL Group to participate in American politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 U.S. political races. The company is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. In 2015 it became known as the data analysis company working primarily for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.
Background and methods
SCL Group calls itself a "global election management agency" known for involvement "in military disinformation campaigns to social media branding and voter targeting". SLC’s involvement in the political world has been primarily in the developing world where it has been used by the military and politicians to study and manipulate public opinion and political will. SCL claims to have been successful to help foment coups.
When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013 it hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behavior, internet activity, and other public and private sources. According to The Guardian, CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users' permission or knowledge. Another source of information is the "Cruz Crew" mobile app that tracks physical movements and contacts and invades personal data more than any other app of presidential candidates.
Information is analyzed using “data enhancement and audience segmentation techniques” providing “psychographic analysis” for a “deeper knowledge of the target audience”. The company uses the OCEAN scale of personality traits. Using what it calls "behavioral microtargeting" the company indicates that it can predict "needs" of subjects and how these needs may change over time. Services then can be individually targeted for the benefit of its clients from the political arena, governments, and companies providing "a better and more actionable view of their key audiences." According to Sasha Issenberg, CA indicates that it can tell things about an individual he might not even know about himself.
Cambridge Analytica derives much of its personality data on online surveys which it conducts on an ongoing basis. For each political client, the firm narrows voter segments from 32 different personality styles it attributes to every adult in the U.S. The personality data informs the tone of the language used in ad messages or voter contact scripts, while additional data is used to determine voters' stances on particular issues.
The data gets updated with monthly surveys, asking about political preferences and how people get the information they use to make decisions. It also covers consumer topics about different brands and preferred products, building up an image of how someone shops as much as how they vote.
Role in 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries
CA's involvement in the Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 became known in July 2015. As of December 2015 CA prided itself to have collected up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans.
Ted Cruz is the major client of CA in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Just prior to the Iowa caucuses the Cruz campaign had spent $3m for CA's services. with additional money coming from allied Super Pacs. After Cruz's win at the Iowa caucus CA was credited with having been able to identify and motivate potential voters.
Ben Carson was a second client of CA, his campagne had paid $220,000 for "data management" and "web service" as reported in October 2015. Marco Rubio's campaign is supported by Optimus Consulting.
Role in 2014 midterm elections
Cambridge Analytica entered the U.S. market in 2012, and was involved in 44 U.S. congressional, US Senate and state-level elections in the 2014 midterm elections
The company worked with John Bolton Super PAC on a major digital and TV campaign focused on senate races in Arkansas, North Carolina and New Hampshire, and helped turnout voters for the Republican candidates in those states. Two of the Republican candidates backed by the Bolton SuperPAC, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Tom Cotton in Arkansas, won their Senate bids, while Scott Brown lost in New Hampshire. The PAC ran 15 different spots each in North Carolina and Arkansas and 17 in New Hampshire—mostly online with some targeted directly to households using Dish and DirecTV. All were intended to push Mr. Bolton's national security agenda.
Cambridge Analytica also supported Thom Tillis's successful campaign to oust Kay Hagan as the senator for North Carolina. The firm was credited for its role in identifying a sizeable cluster of North Carolinians who prioritized foreign affairs—which encouraged Tillis to shift the conversation from state-level debates over education policy to charges that incumbent Kay Hagan had failed to take ISIS’s rise seriously.
The use of personal data collected without knowledge or permission to establish sophisticated models of user's personalities raises ethical and privacy issues. CA operates out of the United States; its operations would be illegal in Europe with its stricter privacy laws. While Cruz is outspoken about protecting personal information from the government, his data base of CA has been described as "political-voter surveillance".
Regarding CA's use of Facebook users, a speaker for CA indicated that these users gave permission when signing up with the provider, while Facebook declared that "misleading people or misusing information" is in violation of Facebook's policies. Facebook indicated that is investigating the matter.
- Sasha Issenberg (November 12, 2015). "Cruz-Connected Data Miner Aims to Get Inside U.S. Voters' Heads". Bloomberg. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
- Frances Stead Sellers (October 19, 2015). "Cruz campaign paid $750,000 to ‘psychographic profiling’ company". Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- Kenneth Vogel (July 7, 2015). "Cruz partners with donor's 'psychographic' firm". Politico. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
- SCL Group website
- Davies, H (December 11, 2015). "Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- Michael Biesecker, Julie Bykowicz (February 11, 2016). "Cruz app data collection helps campaign read minds of voters". Associated Press. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
- "About Us". Cambridge Analytica. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
- "Cruz's Data Company Works Into the Night After Big $3 Million Payout". adage.com. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- "Inside the Tech That Puts Political Ads on Your Screen". DC Inno. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- Lichtblau E, Stevenson A (April 10, 2015). "Hedge-Fund Magnate Robert Mercer Emerges as a Generous Backer of Cruz". New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
- Harry Davies (February 1, 2016). "Ted Cruz erased Trump's Iowa lead by spending millions on voter targeting". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- Sasha Issenberg (February 2, 2016). "How Ted Cruz Engineered His Iowa Triumph". Bloomberg. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "Cambridge Analytica Congratulates Senator Ted Cruz on Iowa Caucus Win". PR Newswire. February 2, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- Sean J. Miller (February 2, 2016). "Organization and Analytics Help Take Down Trump in Iowa". Campaigns & elections. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
- Sellers, Frances Stead (2015-10-19). "Cruz campaign paid $750,000 to ‘psychographic profiling’ company". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- "Much-Hyped Data Firm's Promise Could Be Tested in Iowa". adage.com. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- "Cruz-Connected Data Miner Aims to Get Inside U.S. Voters' Heads". Bloomberg.com/politics. Retrieved 2016-02-26.