Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Facebook has gotten too big for Mark Zuckerberg — “In over his head…”

March 23, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg is not comfortable with the enormous influence he has over the world.

During his apology tour this week for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Zuckerberg lent support to the idea of regulating Facebook and admitted he’d rather not be the person making content policy decisions for the world.

But he pushed back on one thing: Facebook’s immense power.

Image result for Mark Zuckerberg, photos

When CNN’s Laurie Segall asked if Facebook (FB) had become “too powerful,” Zuckerberg responded: “I don’t think so.”

“The reason why we’ve succeeded as a company is because we serve people and give people power,” Zuckerberg said. “The day that we stop doing that, we’ll stop being a relevant company.”

Zuckerberg argued that history shows any list of “the biggest [companies] in any given industry” will inevitably change “ten years later, or ten years after that.”

And yet, at this moment, Facebook isn’t just on the list, but nearly unrivaled in its dominance. It has billions of users and tremendous influence over the media and advertising industries. It also has no obvious direct competitor who can take it down thanks to years of acquiring and cloning newer social media companies.

“It influences how more than 2 billion around the world people see, think, and feel. I can’t think of an institution that has close to that power, with the possible exception of Google,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and author of a forthcoming book on Facebook’s impact on democracy.

“For Mark Zuckerberg to deny that,” he added, “is insulting.”

Related: Zuckerberg opens the door to testifying before Congress

Facebook is widely considered one of the “big four” tech companies, along with Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and Google’s parent company, Alphabet (GOOGL). Like others in this group, Facebook has the ability to upend new industries overnight — and perhaps upend society itself.

News broke last weekend that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, reportedly accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

Facebook has faced other controversies over user data and privacy, but the stakes have grown with the platform’s influence. This time, it wasn’t simply a matter of selling ads, but potentially swaying an election.

Once again, Facebook was forced to account for its role in the 2016 election after what was already a bruising year full of stories about fake newsforeign election meddling and filter bubbles.

“Any company that can influence a US presidential election without being aware that it is doing so is demonstrably too powerful,” Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor and a venture capitalist, told CNN by email.

Brian Wieser, an analyst who tracks Facebook for Pivotal Research Group, says the real issue plaguing the company may not be whether it’s too powerful so much as whether it became powerful too fast.

“It looks like a problem that has emerged is that they may have become big and powerful too quickly, without ensuring their foundations were solid enough to withstand the growth they have had,” Wieser told CNN.

Dex Torricke-Barton, a former speechwriter for Zuckerberg and former executive communications manager for Facebook, disagrees that the company is too powerful. But the idea that it is does create a genuine challenge for Facebook, he said.

“The perception that Facebook is all-powerful places an unfair burden on the company,” he said. “The challenges of misinformation, fake news and bad online actors didn’t begin with Facebook, and can’t be solved by Facebook alone.”

CNN Exclusive: Zuckerberg apologizes
CNN Exclusive: Zuckerberg apologizes

Zuckerberg may play down how powerful Facebook is, but his interviews this week highlight his clear discomfort with the responsibility he now has, not just to make products, but to make policies with global impact.

“I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California in an office making content policy decisions for people around the world,” Zuckerberg told Re/code. “[The] thing is like, ‘Where’s the line on hate speech?’ I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that? I guess I have to, because of [where we are] now, but I’d rather not.”

In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg said if anyone had told him when he founded Facebook in 2004 that he’d one day be battling state actors, “I wouldn’t have really believed that that would be something I’d have to work on 14 years later.”

 http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/23/news/companies/facebook-power-data/index.html
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How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/facebook-google-public-health-democracy

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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’

March 20, 2018

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

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The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didn’t yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, I’d already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

 Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ – video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (he’s 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britain’s EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool”.

In 2014, Steve Bannon – then executive chairman of the “alt-right” news network Breitbart – was Wylie’s boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analytica’s investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined “The great British Brexit robbery”, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. “I haven’t talked about this to anyone,” he said at the time. And then he couldn’t stop talking.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/article-embeds/Sidebar-ca/embed.html

By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trump’s chief strategist. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. “It’s insane,” he told me one night. “The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.”

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May, it was revealed that the company had “reached out” to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analyticathreatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was “information warfare”. But Wylie offers a unique, worm’s-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the US’s democratic process.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

“Is it fair to say you ‘hacked’ Facebook?” I ask him one night.

He hesitates. “I’ll point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.”

Last month, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): “Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?”

Simon Milner: “No.”

Matheson: “But they do hold a large chunk of Facebook’s user data, don’t they?”

Milner: “No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Alexander Nix
 Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix: “Does any of the data come from Facebook?” Nix replied: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that – at least in 2014 – that certainly wasn’t the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters – records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

It’s taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where it’s possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic – Robert Mueller’s in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after theObserver’s first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind – to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

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Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

“Politics is like the mob, though,” he says. “You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.”

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

“He’s one of the brightest people you will ever meet,” a senior politician who’s known Wylie since he was 20 told me. “Sometimes that’s a blessing and sometimes a curse.”

Meanwhile, at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test.
 Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinski’s PhD and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didn’t have a clue what he was walking into.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested.

“I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: ‘Why are you so pessimistic?’ They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.”

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?
 Another example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test.

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa – a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCL’s offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

“The thing I think about all the time is, what if I’d taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if I’d taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.”

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

U.S. President Trump’s former chief strategist Bannon walks in Piazza Navona in Rome
 Steve Bannon: ‘He loved the gays,’ says Wylie. ‘He saw us as early adopters.’ Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekah’s Manhattan apartment.

“She loved me. She was like, ‘Oh we need more of your type on our side!’”

Your type?

“The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It’s why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.”

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading – which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs – and he listened to Wylie’s pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paperresearched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

“In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas it’s the opposite way around with Mercer,” says Wylie. “He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.”

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

“Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?”

Nix: “GSR?”

Collins: “Yes.”

Nix: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Collins: “They have not supplied you with data or information?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “At all?”

Nix: “At all.”

The problem with Nix’s response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwell’s research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. “Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.” (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr Aleksandr Kogan
 An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

It was Bannon’s interest in culture as war that ignited Wylie’s intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercer’s millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.”

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next – how it extracted psychological insights from the “seeders” and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didn’t do for Trump has revolved around the question of “psychographics”, but Wylie points out: “Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldn’t you use it in your biggest campaign ever?”

In December 2015, the Guardian’s Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasn’t until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that “GSR was not authorised to share or sell it”. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher Wylie
 Christopher Wylie: ‘It’s like Nixon on steroids’

“I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,” says Wylie. “Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.”

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Dr Kogan – who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan – is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: “We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that “they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections” but that they were “failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers”. The work, he said, would be “shared with the CEO of the business”, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a “rumour campaign” spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which the company worked – by spreading the idea that the “election would be rigged”. The final slide, branded with Lukoil’s logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its “deliverables”: “psychographic messaging”.

Robert Mercer with his daughter Rebekah.
 Robert Mercer with his daughter Rebekah. Photograph: Sean Zanni/Getty Images

Lukoil is a private company, but its CEO, Alekperov, answers to Putin, and it’s been used as a vehicle of Russian influence in Europe and elsewhere – including in the Czech Republic, where in 2016 it was revealed that an adviser to the strongly pro-Russian Czech president was being paid by the company.

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When I asked Bill Browder – an Anglo-American businessman who is leading a global campaign for a Magnitsky Act to enforce sanctions against Russian individuals – what he made of it, he said: “Everyone in Russia is subordinate to Putin. One should be highly suspicious of any Russian company pitching anything outside its normal business activities.”

Last month, Nix told MPs on the parliamentary committee investigating fake news: “We have never worked with a Russian organisation in Russia or any other company. We do not have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.”

There’s no evidence that Cambridge Analytica ever did any work for Lukoil. What these documents show, though, is that in 2014 one of Russia’s biggest companies was fully briefed on: Facebook, microtargeting, data, election disruption.

Cambridge Analytica is “Chris’s Frankenstein”, says a friend of his. “He created it. It’s his data Frankenmonster. And now he’s trying to put it right.”

Only once has Wylie made the case of pointing out that he was 24 at the time. But he was. He thrilled to the intellectual possibilities of it. He didn’t think of the consequences. And I wonder how much he’s processed his own role or responsibility in it. Instead, he’s determined to go on the record and undo this thing he has created.

Because the past few months have been like watching a tornado gathering force. And when Wylie turns the full force of his attention to something – his strategic brain, his attention to detail, his ability to plan 12 moves ahead – it is sometimes slightly terrifying to behold. Dealing with someone trained in information warfare has its own particular challenges, and his suite of extraordinary talents include the kind of high-level political skills that makes House of Cards look like The Great British Bake Off. And not everyone’s a fan. Any number of ex-colleagues – even the ones who love him – call him “Machiavellian”. Another described the screaming matches he and Nix would have.

“What do your parents make of your decision to come forward?” I ask him.

“They get it. My dad sent me a cartoon today, which had two characters hanging off a cliff, and the first one’s saying ‘Hang in there.’ And the other is like: ‘Fuck you.’”

Which are you?

“Probably both.”

What isn’t in doubt is what a long, fraught journey it has been to get to this stage. And how fearless he is.

After many months, I learn the terrible, dark backstory that throws some light on his determination, and which he discusses candidly. At six, while at school, Wylie was abused by a mentally unstable person. The school tried to cover it up, blaming his parents, and a long court battle followed. Wylie’s childhood and school career never recovered. His parents – his father is a doctor and his mother is a psychiatrist – were wonderful, he says. “But they knew the trajectory of people who are put in that situation, so I think it was particularly difficult for them, because they had a deeper understanding of what that does to a person long term.”

He says he grew up listening to psychologists discuss him in the third person, and, aged 14, he successfully sued the British Columbia Ministry of Education and forced it to change its inclusion policies around bullying. What I observe now is how much he loves the law, lawyers, precision, order. I come to think of his pink hair as a false-flag operation. What he cannot tolerate is bullying.

Is what Cambridge Analytica does akin to bullying?

“I think it’s worse than bullying,” Wylie says. “Because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says. And Wylie’s revelations only move it on again.

“Facebook has denied and denied and denied this,” Dehaye says when told of theObserver’s new evidence. “It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law. It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”

Facebook denies that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules. Both Aleksandr Kogan as well as the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

Millions of people’s personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldn’t have seen, and couldn’t have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, “would work for anyone”. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?

It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.

“Yes.”

Nato or non-Nato?

“Either. I mean they’re mercenaries. They’ll work for pretty much anyone who pays.”

It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylie’s efforts, there’s no turning the clock back.

Tamsin Shaw, a philosophy professor at New York University, and the author of a recent New York Review of Books article on cyberwar and the Silicon Valley economy, told me that she’d pointed to the possibility of private contractors obtaining cyberweapons that had at least been in part funded by US defence.

She calls Wylie’s disclosures “wild” and points out that “the whole Facebook project” has only been allowed to become as vast and powerful as it has because of the US national security establishment.

“It’s a form of very deep but soft power that’s been seen as an asset for the US. Russia has been so explicit about this, paying for the ads in roubles and so on. It’s making this point, isn’t it? That Silicon Valley is a US national security asset that they’ve turned on itself.”

Or, more simply: blowback.

 Revealed: 50m Facebook profiles harvested in major data breach
 How ‘likes’ became a political weapon

This article was amended on 18 March 2018 to clarify the full title of the British Columbia Ministry of Education

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

Video Games and Children: Playing with Violence

February 24, 2018

Playing video games has become a popular activity for people of all ages. Video gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry bringing in more money than movies and DVDs. On average, girls spend more than an hour per day playing video games and boys spend more than two hours. Teens often spend even more time than younger children. Video games have become very sophisticated and realistic. Some games connect to the internet, which can allow children and adolescents to play games and have discussions with unknown adults and peers.

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While some games have educational content, many of the most popular games emphasize negative themes and promote:

  • The killing of people or animals
  • The use and abuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Criminal behavior, disrespect for authority and the law
  • Sexual exploitation and violence toward women
  • Racial, sexual, and gender stereotypes
  • Foul language and obscene gestures

Store-bought video games are evaluated by the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and rated for their appropriateness for children and teens. The ratings are featured prominently on the game packaging.

Studies of children exposed to violent media have shown that they may become numb to violence, imitate the violence, and show more aggressive behavior. Younger children and those with emotional, behavioral or learning problems may be more influenced by violent images.

In moderation, playing age-appropriate games can be enjoyable and healthy. Some video games may promote learning, problem solving and help with the development of fine motor skills and coordination. However, there are concerns about the effect of video games on young people who play videogames excessively.

Children and adolescents can become overly involved with videogames. They may have difficulty controlling the amount of time they play. They may resist their parents’ attempts to limit their time playing video games. Spending excessive time playing these games can lead to:

  • Less time socializing with friends and family
  • Poor social skills
  • Time away from family time, school work, and other hobbies
  • Lower grades
  • Less reading
  • Less exercise and becoming overweight
  • Decreased sleep and poor quality sleep
  • Aggressive thoughts and behaviors

Tips for Parents
Parents can help their children enjoy these video games appropriately and avoid problems by:

  • Avoiding video games in preschool-aged children
  • Checking the ESRB ratings to select appropriate games—both in content and level of development
  • Playing videogames with their children to share the experience and discuss the game’s content
  • Setting clear rules about game content and playing time, both in and outside the home
  • Monitoring online interactions and warning children about potential dangers of Internet contacts while playing games online
  • Allowing video game playing only in public areas of the home, not in the child’s bedroom
  • Remembering that you are a role model for your children including which video games you play and how long you play them
  • Enforcing total screen time limits
  • Ensuring video games are only played after homework and chores are done
  • Encouraging participation in other activities, particularly physical activities

If you continue to have concerns about your child’s gaming habits or if your child is having difficulty with mood or behavior, ask your child’s pediatrician, family physician or school counselor to help arrange a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional.

https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Video-Games-Playing-with-Violence-091.aspx

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Related:

 — Video Games Can Rot Your Brain

How to Resist Our Age of Resentment (And Clinical Narcissism)

January 20, 2018

Toxic feelings of inadequacy are on the rise, fueled by social media, but there are ways to stay sane

How to Resist Our Age of Resentment
ILLUSTRATION: HUANG YU-MING

It’s the rare, hyper-evolved bird among us—a Buddhist bird, probably—who can wander the halls of social media without feeling the slightest twinge of resentment. There’s the couples’ trip to Paris that you weren’t invited to (even though you introduced them all!). The scholarship your child didn’t win (but he’s so precocious!). The big promotion you didn’t land…and that went to your less talented colleague. Things that could have, should have, been yours.

Resentment is a feeling of indignation in reaction to a real or perceived slight, a sense of insult or inadequacy caused by the actions, comments or simple existence of someone or something else. It’s the feeling that you’re not getting your fair share, while someone else is getting more than theirs.

Resentment has its benefits. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, with more than 2,300 subjects from around the world, found that short-term resentment may help to boost self-esteem, by allowing us to blame others for our problems.

But the benefits are short-lived. Resentment is, in fact, highly toxic. A 2011 clinical overview of the emotional and physiological effects of anger and resentment on the body, with contributions from several authors, showed that chronic bitterness can slow metabolism, immune system function and organ function. Some psychologists even believe that, left unchecked, resentment can turn into a condition known as “post-traumatic embitterment disorder,” which can manifest itself as anxiety, depression and fits of rage. (The diagnosis remains unofficial but has been discussed in the literature for more than a decade.)

Demographic and technological trends haven’t helped matters. According to a 2010 study published​in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, clinical narcissism among college students—which is defined by heightened feelings of entitlement, decreased morality and fierce competitiveness—increased by 30% from 1982 to 2006, when two out of every three measured high for the disorder. That age cohort is now social media’s prime group of users. They use the platforms to present a curated life that quite often shows only the most flattering bits, with the purpose of conveying, or implying, status and standing. You’re quite literally meant to resent their success, or their beauty, or their luck.

How to Resist Our Age of Resentment
ILLUSTRATION: HUANG YU-MING

The importance and visibility that social media have lent to social interaction also mean that adulthood now often resembles a high-school popularity contest. We broadcast our own social lives and resent when we’re excluded from the social lives of others. As the current saying goes, “If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen.” And if it is on Instagram—and you weren’t there—it’s hard not to feel the slight.

We’re also a society that’s increasingly obsessed with wealth, and perhaps especially when friends rise above our own station. This too breeds resentment. Perhaps these are friends who don’t work as hard as you, or married into money they did not earn.

A 2005 paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics analyzed data collected by the National Survey of Families and Households, representing approximately 10,000 people. The study found that “relative income”—that is, how much you feel that you earn in comparison to others—is more important in determining self-esteem than what you actually earn.

And those with compromised self-esteem are more likely to feel the effects of resentment. Whether it’s through social media or real life—whether they are strangers or friends—seeing others who are well off, even if they don’t flaunt it, can force those with less to confront their own thoughts about money.

For the past 80 years, researchers at the Harvard Study of Adult Development have looked at how Americans report their own happiness. It is the longest study ever conducted on the topic. They have found that it’s not money or fame, nor possessions or looks, that lead to happiness but, rather, strong relationships. Yet, when asked, most people, especially young people, believe that money or fame will make them happy.

In a TED talk, Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study, reported that 80% percent of millennials say that their life goal is to be rich. Fifty percent say that one of their goals is to be famous. Most, of course, will achieve neither. So is it any wonder that resentment is on the rise?

The resurgence of resentment has something to do, I suspect, with a very positive social development: female empowerment. As women become more diverse in their achievements, income levels and desires, there is more opportunity for them to wonder if they could be or have more—and to ask why they have fallen short. There’s more opportunity for women to resent those in their lives—men, other women or their own children—whom they may see as holding them back. Show me a professional woman who doesn’t feel resentful about coming home to a pile of dirty laundry, a hungry child, and a husband playing Xbox, and I’ll show you a magical unicorn.

We’re also kidding ourselves if we don’t cop to the resentment that working women can feel for stay-at-home moms, and vice versa. This might emerge in the context of money, and the material display of it: Does she have more than I do and where did she get it? Has she earned it? If not, where did she get it? Or it might emerge in the context of parenting: Does she think she’s a better mother because she stays home? Does she think she’s a better mother because she works?

The good news is that the fix for resentment lies entirely within yourself. It consists of learning to push resentment down—remembering that happiness is found in what you have and not what you don’t. At the very least, it means accepting that what you see of others’ lives isn’t always the entire story. It requires us to acknowledge that others can’t control our happiness or how we choose to live our lives, just as we can’t control how they choose to live theirs.

But we can control what we allow ourselves to see. If you find that Facebook or Instagram is making you upset, give yourself a break. If you can’t visit with friends without cringing inside over their good fortune, that’s a shame—but, again, give yourself a break. It’s hardly human nature to feel happy with what we have. In one sense, that’s a positive quality—it’s what keeps us moving forward.

But if your “wanting more” keeps coming back to the vacation or dress or career or life that you don’t have, turn your fixation into action. Complain less; do more. Refocus the desires. Reframe the perspective.

As the Harvard researchers concluded, the road to happiness is simple, if obvious: Happiness comes from choosing to be happy. Living without resentment is not always easy to achieve, but the power to resist its temptations is entirely in your own hands.

Appeared in the January 20, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-resist-our-age-of-resentment-1516376960

Social Media Is Making Us Dumber. Here’s Exhibit A. (Tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world.) — Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

January 12, 2018

By JESSE SINGAL

The New York Times
JAN. 11, 2018

Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker Credit Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

.
This week, a video surfaced of a Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, which appeared to show him lauding members of a racist movement. The clip, which was pulled from a November event at Harvard put on by Spiked magazine, showed Mr. Pinker referring to “the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right” and calling them “internet savvy” and “media savvy.”

The clip went viral. The right celebrated; the left fumed. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website ran an article headlined, in part, “Harvard Jew Professor Admits the Alt-Right Is Right About Everything.” A tweet of the video published by the self-described “Right-Wing Rabble-Rouser” Alex Witoslawski got hundreds of retweets, including one from the white-nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

“Steven Pinker has long been a darling of the white supremacist ‘alt-right,’” noted the lefty journalist Ben Norton. “And he returns the favor.” Others reacted to the rumor with simple exasperation: “Christ on a crutch,” said the liberal commentator and biologist PZ Myers, who also wrote a blog post denouncing Mr. Pinker for this supposed alliance.

The idea that Mr. Pinker, a liberal, Jewish psychology professor, is a fan of a racist, anti-Semitic online movement is absurd on its face, so it might be tempting to roll your eyes and dismiss this blowup as just another instance of social media doing what it does best: generating outrage.

But it’s actually a worthwhile episode to unpack, because it highlights a disturbing, worsening tendency in social media in which tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world. Or maybe “subtribal” is the more precise, fitting term to use here. It’s one thing to say that left and right disagree on simple facts about the world — this sort of informational Balkanization has been going on for a while and long predates Twitter. What social media is doing is slicing the salami thinner and thinner, as it were, making it harder even for people who are otherwise in general ideological agreement to agree on basic facts about news events.

That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

The online anger aimed at Mr. Pinker provides a perfect case study.

The clip was deeply misleading. If you watch the whole eight-minute video from which it was culled, it’s clear that Mr. Pinker’s entire point is that the alt-right’s beliefs are false and illogical — but that the left needs to do a better job fighting against them.

The clip begins with Mr. Pinker saying he agrees with the other panelists (two journalists and a lawyer) that “political correctness has done an enormous amount of harm in the sliver of the population that might be — I wouldn’t want to say ‘persuadable,’ but certainly whose affiliation might be up for grabs.” This problem presents itself when it comes to “the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right: internet savvy, media savvy, who often are radicalized in that way, who ‘swallow the red pill,’ as the saying goes, the allusion from ‘The Matrix.’”

Mr. Pinker goes on to argue that when members of this group encounter, for the first time, ideas that he believes to be frowned upon or suppressed in liberal circles — that most suicide bombers are Muslim or that members of different racial groups commit crimes at different rates — they are “immediately infected with both the feeling of outrage that these truths are unsayable” and are provided with “no defense against taking them to what we might consider to be rather repellent conclusions.”

That’s unfortunate, Mr. Pinker argues, because while someone might use these facts to support bigoted views, that needn’t be the case, because “for each one of these facts, there are very powerful counterarguments for why they don’t license racism and sexism and anarcho-capitalism and so on.”

He then goes on to carefully explain those counterarguments: For example, while at the moment it’s true that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide rate is higher for blacks than for whites, that doesn’t really tell us anything about a group of people since at different times in history, different groups have had elevated crime rates — at one point Irish-Americans did. By that same token, he says, “the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by right-wing extremist groups,” not Muslims.

It would be impossible for a reasonable person to watch the eight-minute video and come away thinking Mr. Pinker’s point is to praise the alt-right rather than to make a psychological argument about political correctness, alt-right recruitment and how to better fight that movement’s bigoted ideas

Now, maybe you disagree with certain parts of this argument — I do, in that I think Mr. Pinker overstates the intensity of campus political correctness — but it’s hard to have that debate in the first place when such a wildly skewed version of Mr. Pinker’s point is spreading like wildfire on the internet.

Steven Pinker will be O.K. A fleeting Twitter blowup isn’t going to bruise his long and successful career as a public intellectual. But this is happening more and more — and in many cases to people who don’t have the standing and reputation he does.

It’s getting harder and harder to talk about anything controversial online without every single utterance of an opinion immediately being caricatured by opportunistic outrage-mongers, at which point everyone, afraid to be caught exposed in the skirmish that’s about to break out, rushes for the safety of their ideological battlements, where they can safely scream out their righteousness in unison. In this case: “Steven Pinker said the alt-right is good! But the alt-right is bad! We must defend this principle!”

This is making us dumber.

Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) is a contributing writer for New York magazine and is working on a book about why social-science ideas go viral.

Related:

How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/facebook-google-public-health-democracy

iPhones and Children Are a Toxic Pair, Say Two Big Apple Investors

January 8, 2018

Two activist shareholders want Apple to develop tools and research effects on young people of smartphone overuse and addiction

Teens took a group selfie with a smartphone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 1.
Teens took a group selfie with a smartphone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 1. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The iPhone has made Apple Inc. and Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars. Now some big shareholders are asking at what cost, in an unusual campaign to make the company more socially responsible.

A leading activist investor and a pension fund are saying the smartphone maker needs to respond to what some see as a growing public-health crisis of youth phone addiction.

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, which control about $2 billion of Apple shares, sent a letter to Apple on Saturday urging it to develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.

The Apple push is a preamble to a new several-billion-dollar fund Jana is seeking to raise this year to target companies it believes can be better corporate citizens. It is the first instance of a big Wall Street activist seeking to profit from the kind of social-responsibility campaign typically associated with a small fringe of investors.

Adding splash, rock star Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, will be on an advisory board along with Sister Patricia A. Daly, a nun who successfully fought Exxon Mobil Corp. over environmental disclosures, and Robert Eccles, an expert on sustainable investing.

The Apple campaign would be unusual for an activist like Jana, which normally urges companies to make financial changes. But the investors believe that Apple’s highflying stock could be hurt in coming decades if it faces a backlash and that proactive moves could generate goodwill and keep consumers loyal to Apple brands.

“Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do,” the shareholders wrote in the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility.”

Obsessive teenage smartphone usage has sparked a debate among academics, parents and even the people who helped create the iPhone.

Two teenage boys use smartphones in Vail, Colo., in June 2017.
Two teenage boys use smartphones in Vail, Colo., in June 2017. PHOTO: ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Some have raised concerns about increased rates in teen depression and suicide and worry that phones are replacing old-fashioned human interaction. It is part of a broader re-evaluation of the effects on society of technology companies such as Google and Amazon.com Inc. and social-media companies like Facebook Inc. and Snap chat owner Snap Inc., which are facing questions about their reach into everyday life.

Apple hasn’t offered any public guidance to parents on how to manage children’s smartphone use or taken a position on at what age they should begin using iPhones.

Apple and its rivals point to features that give parents some measure of control. Apple, for instance, gives parents the ability to choose which apps, content and services their children can access.

The basic idea behind socially responsible investing is that good corporate citizenship can also be good business. Big investors and banks, including TPG, UBS Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are making bets on socially responsible companies, boosting what they see as good actors and avoiding bad ones.

Big-name activists increasingly view bad environmental, social or governance policies as red flags. Jana plans to go further, putting its typical tools to work to drive change that may not immediately pay off.

Apple is an ambitious first target: The combined Jana-Calstrs stake is relatively small given Apple’s nearly $900 billion market value. Still, in recent years Apple has twice faced activists demanding it pare its cash holdings, and both times the company ceded some ground.

Chief Executive Tim Cook has led Apple’s efforts to be a more socially responsible company, for instance on environmental and immigration issues, and said in an interview with the New York Times last year that Apple has a “moral responsibility” to help the U.S. economy.

Apple has shown willingness to use software to address potentially negative consequences of phone usage. Amid rising concerns about distracted driving, the company last year updated its software with a “do not disturb while driving” feature, which enables the iPhone to detect when someone is behind the wheel and automatically silence notifications.

The iPhone is the backbone of a business that generated $48.35 billion in profit in fiscal 2017. It helped turn Apple into the world’s largest publicly listed company by market value, and anticipation of strong sales of its latest model, the iPhone X, helped its stock rise 50% in the past year. Apple phones made up 43% of U.S. smartphones in use in 2016, according to comScore , and an estimated 86 million Americans over age 13 own an iPhone.

Jana and Calstrs are working with Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University, who chronicled the problem of what she has dubbed the “iGen” in a book that was previewed in a widely discussed article in the Atlantic magazine last fall, and with Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, known as “the mediatrician” for his work on the impact of media on children.

The investors believe both the content and the amount of time spent on phones need to be tailored to youths, and they are raising concern about the public-health effects of failing to act. They point to research from Ms. Twenge and others about a “growing body of evidence” of “unintentional negative side effects,” including studies showing concerns from teachers. That is one reason Calstrs was eager to support the campaign, according to the letter.

The group wants Apple to help find solutions to questions like what is optimal usage and to be at the forefront of the industry’s response—before regulators or consumers potentially force it to act.

The investors say Apple should make it easier and more intuitive for parents to set up usage limits, which could head off any future moves to proscribe smartphones.

The question is “How can we apply the same kind of public-health science to this that we do to, say, nutrition?” Dr. Rich said in an interview. “We aren’t going to tell you never go to Mickey D’s, but we are going to tell you what a Big Mac will do and what broccoli will do.”

Write to David Benoit at david.benoit@wsj.com

Appeared in the January 8, 2018, print edition as ‘Investors Prod Apple On Child iPhone Use.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/iphones-and-children-are-a-toxic-pair-say-two-big-apple-investors-1515358834

Ad firms using tools to help them read your mind

December 24, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by John BIERS | Emily Safian-Demers, of French advertising company Ipsos, demonstrates an eye-tracking gadget used to mine consumers’ raw emotions for information

NEW YORK (AFP) – Why did you splurge on that new pair of shoes? Or that pricey smartphone? More and more advertisers are trying to tap into the unconscious to divine the invisible forces that drive those spending decisions.Using gadgets to track eye movements, computer maps of faces to capture a momentary grin (approval) or squinting (anger), and sensors to measure perspiration or monitor brain activity, companies are mining consumers’ raw emotions for information.

Traditionally, ad firms have measured the success of their campaigns through consumer surveys, but that technique has its limits.

“It’s not that people won’t tell you, they actually can’t tell you why they’re making the decision they’re making,” said Jessica Azoulay, vice president of the market intelligence practice at Isobar, a digital marketing agency.

The new techniques recognize that our purchase decisions are driven by both rational and emotional factors, and reflect research showing the brain takes in information on different levels.

They “enable us to capture many different types of emotions and to be able to profile the emotions that are happening very granularly on a second by second basis,” said Elissa Moses, chief executive of the neuro and behavioral science business at Ipsos, a consultancy and market research firm.

“People won’t be able to tell you that something irritated them in scene three or thrilled them in scene seven, but we’ll know from looking at the facial coding,” Moses said.

The technologies can help track if brands are maintaining their edge over competitors, and make ads more effective by determining what to highlight, for example whether to emphasize the distress of allergy symptoms or the relief of treatment when pitching medications.

And the techniques are being applied to other industries, such as retail, which is experimenting on ways to attract customers in the Amazon era.

“Ultimately there is a dance between the conscious and unconscious,” Moses said, noting that “in order to actually buy a product, you have to make a conscious decision.”

– Measuring in milliseconds –

Some of the techniques were first employed in the 1970s, but now are being more widely adopted as equipment has improved.

An eye tracking test uses technology-enhanced glasses with a camera to record what a person is seeing on a television or in a store and read how long the eye settles on a particular cue.

That can be combined with other methods, such as galvanic skin responses with sensors applied to a person’s hand to read perspiration, and electroencephalography (EEG) which reads brain activity through sensors on a person’s head.

The data is used to produce a “heat map” with yellow, orange or red “hotspots” that show where the person’s eye fixated.

Techniques measuring arousal can signal whether an ad stands out amid today’s media avalanche.

Other tests that are becoming more popular seek to shed light on unconscious associations with products or shopping needs.

Johnson & Johnson has tested thousands of consumers about Tylenol pain relief and other over-the-counter products, showing them quick-fire images or words that connote a particular emotion.

Responses are tracked to the tens of milliseconds, said Eric Dolan, associate director for global strategic insights at Johnson & Johnson.

The insights can help determine “whether we want to dig in and reinforce those emotional spaces,” or rethink the marketing to convey a different message, he said.

– Picking the pitch –

Tivity Health turned to many of these techniques for its “Silver Sneakers” fitness program for seniors, hiring Isobar to help it devise a marketing strategy based on a psychological profile of potential members.

Isobar had more than 1,000 seniors review a series of rapidly presented images and words about exercise. Based on their clicks, the report showed the population most valued exercise because it made them feel empowered or “ready to go.”

The finding was important as Tivity weighed potential marketing campaigns, including “Living Life Well,” which featured images of age-defying seniors, such as a grandfatherly figure balancing a toddler on his back while doing push-ups.

These ads performed better than an alternative campaign showing groups of smiling seniors together in swim class and in a gym which emphasized the social aspect of Silver Sneakers.

That campaign appeared to fall flat with seniors who view exercise as a means of staying independent, or who may be intimidated at the thought of immediately exercising in a group.

The results countered Tivity’s assumption that the social aspect of the program was the “key motivating driver for members,” said Elizabeth Rula, who directs research for Tivity Health. “We were a bit surprised.”

by John BIERS

Sex robots on way for elderly and lonely…but pleasure-bots have a dark side, warn experts

July 5, 2017

Gemma Chan plays a robot in Humans 

Gemma Chan plays a robot in Humans  CREDIT: CHANNEL 4

By 

Sex robots could soon be used to keep the elderly company in care homes and help couples enjoy long distances sexual relationships, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) has said.

There are currently four manufacturers making life-like robotic dolls worldwide, but experts predict that in coming decades they could become widespread, used not just as a fetish, but for sexual therapy and as companions for lonely, disabled or older people.

Engineer-inventor Douglas Hines adjusts the head of his company's "True Companion" sex robot, Roxxxy
Engineer-inventor Douglas Hines adjusts the head of his company’s “True Companion” sex robot, Roxxxy CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield, and co-founder of the FRR, said it was time for the government and the public to decide whether to regulate pleasure-bots.

 “I can tell you that robots are certainly coming,” he said at the launch of the new consultation report in central London.

“The concern is that this is going on nobody is talking about it. People snigger about them, but they are actually shipping quite a lot and we are going to see them a lot more.

“They are being proposed for the elderly in care homes, which I think is controversial. If you have severe Alzheimer’s you can’t really tell the difference.

“We need to think about as a society what we want to do about it.”

Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not
Patrick Lin, Philosophy professor and robot ethicist

The report found that up to two thirds of men and about 30 per cent of women were in favour of using sex robots, which currently cost between £4,000 and £12,000 and can be customised by sex, height, hair colour, eye colour and even personality.

Companies are also starting to incorporate artificial intelligence so robots can communicate and respond to human emotions.

Doll brothels already operate in South Korea, Japan and Spain, while the first robotic oral sex coffee shop opened in Paddington, west London, last year.

The report said that as robotics, telecommunications and virtual reality merged, sex dolls could be created which was silicon replica of a long-distance partner, so that couples could have virtual sex and even speak to each other through the doll’s mouth.

Gemma Chan in Humans 
Gemma Chan in Humans  CREDIT: CHANNEL 4

But the authors warned that the march of sex robots raised serious moral and ethical questions which needed to be addressed. They warned that users could become socially isolated or even addicted to the machines which could never replace real human contact.

“It’s very sad because it’s going to be a one way relationship,” said Prof Sharkey.

“If people bond with robots it’s very worrying. You are loving an artefact that can’t love you back, and the best they can do is fake it.”

The report also warned of a ‘darker’ side to the industry in which companies were programming ‘shy’ or ‘reluctant’ personalities into their dolls so that users could feel they were forcing the robots to have sex. TrueCompanion’s robot Roxxxy Gold, for example, can be set to ‘Frigid Farah.’

Japanese sex doll manufacturer Trottla has also started selling underage schoolgirl dolls for paedophiles. The company was created by a self-confessed paedophile Shin Takagi who claims he has never harmed a child because he uses the doll.

Although some experts claim such robots could prevent the rape of women, or the abuse of children, the report warns that it could exacerbate the problem.

Philosophy Professor and robot ethicist Patrick Lin of California Polytechnic said: “Treating paedophiles with robot sex-children is both a dubious and repulsive idea.

“Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not. The ethics of sex robots goes beyond whether anyone is physically harmed.”

The authors said it may be necessary to criminalise ‘robotic rape’ and to build in ‘handled roughly’ sensors like those used in pinball machines to prevent users developing violent sexual tendencies. And they called for a complete ban on child sex dolls.

Aimee van Wynsberghe, assistant professor of ethics at the University of Delft, and co founder of the FRR, said: “There isn’t a conversation happening in the general public about what is acceptable, permissible and what should be promoted.

“This is a preliminary step to engage policymakers, academics, the tech industry and the general public.”

The consultation report is on the FRR website where people are invited to comment on its findings. The panel hopes to make final recommendations next year.

The Foundation for Responsible Robotics operates from the Hague Institute for Global Justice at the Hague and run consultations on all areas of robotics. It has 200 members including some of the world’s most eminent robotics academics.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/07/04/sex-robots-way-elderly-lonelybut-pleasure-bots-have-dark-side/

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Japanese men happy with sex dolls — Physiotherapist plugs the void — Cheaper than a Lamborghini (Or a psychiatrist)

June 30, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Alastair HIMMER | Physiotherapist Masayuki Ozaki takes a bath with his silicone sex doll Mayu, who sleeps with him in the home he shares with his wife and teenage daughter in Tokyo.

TOKYO (AFP) – When the spark went out of Masayuki Ozaki’s marriage, he found an unusual outlet to plug the romantic void — a silicone sex doll he swears is the love of his life.The life-size dummy, called Mayu, shares his bed under the same roof as Ozaki’s wife and teenage daughter in Tokyo, an arrangement that triggered angry rows before a delicate truce was finally declared.

“After my wife gave birth we stopped having sex and I felt a deep sense of loneliness,” the 45-year-old physiotherapist told AFP in an interview.

“But the moment I saw Mayu in the showroom, it was love at first sight,” blushed Ozaki, who takes his doll on dates in a wheelchair and dresses her in wigs, sexy clothes and jewellery.

“My wife was furious when I first brought Mayu home. These days she puts up with it, reluctantly,” he added.

“When my daughter realised it wasn’t a giant Barbie doll, she freaked out and said it was gross — but now she’s old enough to share Mayu’s clothes.”

Ozaki is one of an increasing number of Japanese men turning to rubber romance in a country that’s lost its mojo.

He also admits to being turned off by human relationships.

“Japanese women are cold-hearted,” he said while on a seaside stroll with his silicone squeeze.

“They’re very selfish. Men want someone to listen to them without grumbling when they get home from work,” Ozaki added.

“Whatever problems I have, Mayu is always there waiting for me. I love her to bits and want to be with her forever.

“I can’t imagine going back to a human being. I want to be buried with her and take her to heaven.”

– Removable head –

Around 2,000 of the life-like dolls — which cost from $6,000 and come with adjustable fingers, removable head and genitals — are sold each year in Japan, according to industry insiders.

“Technology has come a long way since those nasty inflatable dolls in the 1970s,” noted Hideo Tsuchiya, managing director of doll maker Orient Industry.

“They look incredibly real now and it feels like you’re touching human skin. More men are buying them because they feel they can actually communicate with the dolls,” he explained.

Popular with disabled customers and widowers, as well as mannequin fetishists, some men use dolls to avoid heartache.

“Human beings are so demanding,” insisted 62-year-old Senji Nakajima, who tenderly bathes his rubber girlfriend Saori, has framed photos of her on his wall and even takes her skiing and surfing.

“People always want something from you — like money or commitment,” he complained.

“My heart flutters when I come home to Saori,” added the married father-of-two as he picnicked with his plastic partner.

“She never betrays me, she makes my worries melt away.”

Nakajima’s relationship with Saori has divided his family, but the Tokyo-born businessman refuses to give her up.

“My son accepts it, my daughter can’t,” said Nakajima, whose wife has banned Saori from the family home.

“I’ll never date a real woman again — they’re heartless,” he insisted back at his cluttered Tokyo apartment, sandwiched between two dolls from previous dalliances and a headless rubber torso.

Reconciliation with his estranged wife is unlikely, admits Nakajima.

“I wouldn’t be able to take a bath with Saori, or snuggle up with her and watch TV,” he said, slipping the doll into some racy purple lingerie.

“I don’t want to destroy what I have with her.”

– ‘To me, she’s human’ –

While the pillow talk is decidedly one-way, Nakajima believes he has discovered true love, saying: “I’d never cheat on her, even with a prostitute, because to me she’s human.”

As Japan struggles with a plummeting birthrate, a growing number of men — known as ‘herbivores’ — are turning their backs on love and traditional masculine values for a quiet, uncompetitive life.

“In the future I think more and more guys will choose relationships with dolls,” said Yoshitaka Hyodo, whose home is an Aladdin’s Cave of dolls, kitsch toys and Japanese erotica.

“It’s less stress and they complain a lot less than women,” he added.

Hyodo, a military buff who lives alone but has an understanding girlfriend, owns more than 10 life-size dummies — many of which he dresses in combat uniform to play out wartime fantasies.

But he claims to have cut down on doll sex.

“It’s more about connecting on an emotional level for me now,” said the 43-year-old blogger, whose curiosity was piqued at a young age when he found a charred mannequin in the street.

“People might think I’m weird, but it’s no different than collecting sports cars. I don’t know how much I’ve spent but it’s cheaper than a Lamborghini,” he said.

Future doll users can expect more bang for their buck as researchers work to develop next-generation sexbots able to talk, laugh and even simulate an orgasm.

But for now, Ozaki’s long-suffering wife Riho tries hard to ignore the rubber temptress silently taunting her from her husband’s bedroom.

“I just get on with the housework,” she sniffed.

“I make the dinner, I clean, I do the washing. I choose sleep over sex.”

by Alastair HIMMER

Young people in the UK have some of the lowest levels of “mental wellbeing” — Psychology for Life Life Training is in Order?

February 8, 2017

BBC News

Young people
The study found widespread apprehension about the future. ISTOCK

Young people in the UK have some of the lowest levels of “mental wellbeing”, according to an international survey.

A study of the attitudes of 15- to 21-year-olds in 20 countries examined levels of optimism, confidence and a sense of being loved.

Japan was the only country lower than the UK on this wellbeing ranking, published by the Varkey Foundation education charity.

Only 15% of young people in the UK said they got enough sleep and exercise.

The study looked at the views and expectations of so-called Generation Z, born in the years around the new millennium, based on a survey of more than 20,000 people in countries including the UK, the United States. France, Germany, India, China and Argentina.

And it suggested that there was no clear link between material wellbeing and mental health.

Fearful for the future

While the UK was almost at the bottom of the rankings for wellbeing, along with countries such as Japan and South Korea, the top places were taken by young people in Indonesia, India and Nigeria.

South Korea, with a reputation for a fiercely pressurised education system, was the only country where young people actively disliked where they lived.

Young people across this global sample, including the UK, reported that they were more pessimistic than optimistic about the future.

Although young people in China and India both bucked these gloomy expectations – with their young anticipating a more positive future.

The perception of risk from extremism, terrorism and conflict was widespread – more so than worries about climate change or inequalities between rich and poor.

In the UK, extremism and terror was identified as the biggest single reason for being “fearful for the future”, followed by the threat of “conflict and war”.

There were big differences in attitudes towards the principle of free speech – and whether it should be protected even for views might offend.

Only about a third of young people in Nigeria supported the right to free speech, if it was likely to offend some ethnic groups or religious beliefs.

In contrast, more than two-thirds of young people in Argentina supported free speech, regardless of who it might antagonise.

But there was a common global trend for these young people to hold broadly liberal views on issues such as migration, religious tolerance, equal rights for men and women and acceptance of same-sex marriage.

“At a time of nationalist and populist movements that focus on the differences between people, the evidence shows that young people – whatever their nationality or religion – share a strikingly similar view of the world,” said Vikas Pota, chief executive of the Varkey Foundation.

“Teenagers in Nigeria, New Delhi and New York share many of same priorities, fears, ambitions and opinions.

“There is far more unity among young people than a glance at the headlines would suggest.

“Young people are passionate believers in the right to live the life that they choose, whatever their background, free of prejudice of all kinds.”

But Mr Pota said that this was also a generation that was “deeply pessimistic about the future of the world”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-38906591

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Psychology for Life Life Training is in Order

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

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The reason man has been interested in religion since the start of time is that religion is often very good for the human being…..

The single most often repeated message in the New Testament in “Do not be afraid.”

Human who have no belief in something greater than themselves are often more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, depression, suicide and a host of troubles….

Being a human being requires som brain and well being care…

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 Book: Serenity of Heart by Francis De Sales

“Nothing aggravates evil and hinders good so much as anxiety and worry.” — St. Francis De Sales

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