Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit Robert Mercer, who bankrolled Donald Trump, played key role with ‘sinister’ advice on using Facebook data
The UK’s privacy watchdog is launching an inquiry into how voters’ personal data is being captured and exploited in political campaigns, cited as a key factor in both the Brexit and Trump victories last year. The intervention by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) follows revelations in last week’s Observer that a technology company part-owned by a US billionaire played a key role in the campaign to persuade Britons to vote to leave the European Union.
To have a foreign billionaire’s fingerprints left all over such a seismic moment in British history is deeply concerning and requires urgent further investigation as to whether electoral law was broken.”
A 2015 presentation by one of Cambridge Analytica’s analysts, until recently available on YouTube, explained how it had used “Facebook likes … as an input to machine-learning models.” In the US, companies are free to use third-party data without seeking consent. But Gavin Millar QC, of Matrix Chambers, said this was not the case in Europe. “The position in law is exactly the same as when people would go canvassing from door to door,” Millar said. “They have to say who they are, and if you don’t want to talk to them you can shut the door in their face.That’s the same principle behind the data protection act. It’s why if telephone canvassers ring you, they have to say that whole long speech. You have to identify yourself explicitly.”
Follow the data: does a legal document link Brexit campaigns to US billionaire? We reveal how a confidential legal agreement is at the heart of a web connecting Robert Mercer to Britain’s EU referendum
Mr Baker set out how Vote Leave had worked out how to use front organisations to get around these spending limits. He wrote: ‘It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities, each of which could spend £700,000: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum.’
Using your personal data is now second nature for politicians
The core focus of big data electioneering is identifying marginals – key demographic groups or geographical areas that could go either way, with enough combined weight to pull the overall result in their direction.
The Trump team’s move was to hire Cambridge Analytica. It was a natural fit – Trump’s trusted adviser Steve Bannon was formerly a board member and his friend and supporter, the billionaire Robert Mercer, is said to be a major shareholder. Their methods involve building up detailed psychological profiles of individuals based on up to 5,000 data points per person.
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