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Cambridge Analytica arrives in Australia to STEAL our democracy!

Firm that claims credit for Trump and Brexit arrives to pitch marketers and pollies

By Richard Chirgwin, 2 Apr 2017

The company has repeatedly claimed it helped Donald Trump win the US presidency and got the Brexiters' "Leave" cause over the line has arrived in Australia.

According to Reuters, Cambridge Analytica has registered an office in Maroubra, Sydney, and Liberal Party director Tony Nutt says the party plans to meet company representatives this week.

(Reuters mis-identifies Nutt as a “government official”, which he's not.)

Cambridge Analytica's Matthew Oczkowski was listed to speak at the Australian Direct Marketing Association's “Data Day” presentations (at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney today; Sofitel Melbourne on Collins on Wednesday), but if Reuters is correct, he'll be either joined or replaced by CEO Alexander Nix, ahead of their meeting with the Liberal Party.

The company claims to have swung votes using a technique called “behavioural microtargeting”: profiling people using public information such as Facebook “likes”.

As The Register noted in March, there's some expert scepticism to deal with. First, marketers have grouped people by psychological traits for decades; and second, anybody who's wondered why Toyota thinks their five-figure salary will let them buy a Lexus knows how sloppy individual targeting can be.

The Little Atoms blog in January turned up other flaws in the “big data won it for Trump/Brexit” trope – after all, the Republicans aren't the only ones trying to turn “big data” into electoral success.

Ever since Barack Obama's 2008 election win, publications have touted the Democrats' effective use of data. Yet the two data-jockeys from Obama's 2012 campaign told The Register that the most significant piece of data they collected was voters' answer to the question "Do you support the President?". The "big data wins elections" argument also sputters out a bit when one considers that the Democrats flubbed key states that turned for Trump in 2016.

Australia's premier electoral analyst Antony Green told Reuters tools like Cambridge Analytica might be “useful” to parties but, unlike America, Australian campaigns “are not about motivating people to vote, it's about banging the same message long enough that those who aren't interested hear it”.

In any case, the Liberal Party already has its big data platform – Parakeelia.

Nor will the Australian electoral system represent a ship coming in for Cambridge Analytica. As political outlet Crikey wrote earlier this month, the Liberal Party is deep in debt. ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing