Facebook loses face!

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, acknowledged that there has been “a breach of trust” between Facebook and its users and accepted his company had the responsibility to protect the data of Facebook users

According to its official website, Cambridge Analytica is a British company whose services are the use of data to change audience behaviour. It does this both in the commercial and in the political sphere.

As regards the political sphere, the company says that it finds one’s voters and moves them to action, thus redefining the relationship between data and campaigns: “By knowing your electorate better, you can achieve greater influence while lowering overall costs.”

The company has been of service to several politicians and political parties in the liberal democracies of the West. Its services were even engaged by the Trump Presidential campaign in the US.

The company boasts: “We are the global leader in data-driven campaigning with over 25 years of experience supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents. Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning Presidential races as well as Congressional and State elections.”

But suddenly, for this company, the proverbial sh** has hit the proverbial fan.

In an exercise of investigative journalism carried out by a UK television station - Channel 4 - hidden camera footage captured Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, describing some of the tricks and tools his company uses to get information about people.

In addition to using data from Facebook, Nix and the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, Mark Turnbull, spoke of bribery stings, honey-traps and spying with the help of ex-spies from Britain and Israel.

However, Cambridge Analytica later denied using entrapment, bribes or ‘honey-traps’.

Facebook got involved in this mess when The New York Times and The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica used data inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to influence elections. Worse still is the allegation that for more than two years, Facebook did not bother to follow up on how its data was being used.

Facebook stock suddenly plunged and the company has lost about $50 billion in market value since the reports were published, while a growing numbers of users are considering deleting their accounts.

The head of the EU parliament has promised an investigation. Facebook said that it had hired an outside firm to audit Cambridge Analytica and its activities.

After a week of silence, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, acknowledged that there has been “a breach of trust” between Facebook and its users and accepted his company had the responsibility to protect the data of Facebook users.

In an interview with CNN, Zuckerberg suggested the question was not whether Facebook should be regulated but how best to do it.

I find this sordid story as a sad reflection on the shortcomings of the manner in which democracy works today – on how and why voters cast their vote one way and not the other.

Can we really say that voters who are manipulated in the way Cambridge Analytica has done, while using the full knowledge of personal data on individual likes and dislikes and individual trains of thought, are exercising freely their democratic right to choose their leaders? More so, when this data has been obtained unethically and illegally?

The breach of trust that Zuckerberg has admitted is a really serious one. The way people open their hearts on Facebook reveals their soul and their way of thinking and psychologists can easily work out what these people would be receptive to. Work this out on 50 million people and one can only conclude that it is really the end of the world as we know it. The very idea is frightful. 1984 has come a little later than predicted!

Targeting social groups, has been – for quite some time – an accepted aspect of political campaigning. But this goes much further than that. It is practically the targeting of individual persons who unwittingly disclose several aspects of their character and beliefs on Facebook.

This means that Facebook has been serving as a guide to how individual users think and look at the problems facing society while politicians pay to use this information in political campaigning. When such information on individuals is passed on behind the individual’s back, a red line is crossed.

Facebook is free, or so many users think.

But it has proved to be a threat on the freedom to say what you think without the risk of your ‘free’ decisions not remaining so ‘free’ any longer, because they are surreptitiously manipulated to suit political campaigns.

This cannot be anything but wrong.


Nationalisation by stealth?

Both the Nationalist Party (PN) and the Partit Demokratiku (PD) have asked the Government to justify and explain the purchase of Lombard Bank shares with the use of IIP (Individual Investment Programme) funds without the shares being offered for sale on the Stock Exchange.

The PD said that there is concern about the way the transfer of shares was made without the knowledge of Parliament while the PN has demanded transparency on the purchase of Lombard Bank shares on the part of the Government, using money raised from the IIP. It is the same position the party took when a similar transaction took place with regard to Bank of Valletta shares.

At that time, the PN had alleged that the transaction went against the law that set up the National Development and Social Fund, which receives the lion’s share of the proceeds from the IIP scheme, popularly known as the passport sale scheme.

For some this smacks of nationalisation by stealth. In fact, the left-wing ‘Graffiti’ were quick to support this decision on the grounds that banks should be classified as social entities and therefore more state ‘representation’ – for which read ‘ownership’ – is mostly welcome. They even insisted ‘that any public outcry should target selling of public entities, rather than buying of shares by the state.’

There is a technical difference between the National Development and Social Fund and state coffers but this distinction is simply a mirage. Directors appointed by virtue of shares held by Government or by the Fund are expected to be cronies of the party in power. Political influence in decisions taken by banks is therefore bound to increase… and we all know what this political influence means!

The Prime Minister should be more forthcoming about this investment and state clearly the Government’s position from a practical and from an ideological point of view.


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