After reading this book you will never look at the world the same way, because your mind will be f*cked, excuse the pun. You’ll be left feeling like Neo after being awakened in the first Matrix movie, ergo once you know the truth there’s no turning back! Christopher Wyile opens our eyes to the power of data mining and psychological manipulation, therefore exposing the vulnerabilities of democracy. This book bares the truth behind Cambridge Analytica’s operations and just like the Good Book it starts with Genesis and ends with Revelations.
The story of Cambridge Analytica shows how our identities and behaviour have become commodities in the high-stakes data trade. The algorithms they’ve designed in secret are shaping minds in the world in ways previously unimaginable.
The book begins at the Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF) of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where Christopher was testifying to the U.S. Congress about Cambridge Analytica, a military contractor and psychological warfare firm where he used to work, and a complex web involving Facebook, Russia, WikiLeaks, the Trump campaign, and the Brexit referendum.
One might ask how a liberal, gay twenty-four-year-old Canadian found himself part of a British military contractor developing psychological warfare tools for the American alt-right, well how he ended up at Cambridge Analytica boils down to his default interest in computers as a child. This is why I love Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell because it gives us context to success stories, hence I appreciated that Christopher detailed his upbringing which helped him find his reason for being.
From how he landed in a computer class; finding his voice in public forums as a teenager; his first political role in the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC); trip to America for the Obama campaign; his move to England to study law at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE); his love for fashion and culture; and even the reason for his hair colour. All these facets enable us to understand why he blew the whistle when Cambridge Analytica, a company that weaponized research in psychological profiling, managed to turn the world upside down.
Cambridge Analytica was a subsidiary of the parent company SCL Group (Strategic Communication Laboratories) a firm led by Nigel Oakes which worked primarily for militaries, conducting psychological and influence operations around the world. Alexander Nix, who was one of the directors of the SCL Group helped create Cambridge Analytica together with Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer. They were all fascinated with Palantir, Peter Thiel’s data-mining firm, whose name comes from the crystal ball, or all-seeing eye, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Though, their incentives for creating the company were different, I guess you have to read the book to understand.
I enjoyed how descriptive the writing was hence it was simple to understand the data operations of Cambridge Analytica, the algorithms behind the psychological manipulations as well as the net effect thereof. I recommend this book to all those who seek knowledge of how the digital world works. The book will not only make you question your safety or participation online, it will also open your eyes to the vulnerabilities of democracy. You will learn that no system is absolute, if you shift your perspective on any system—a computer, a network, even society—you may discover flaws and vulnerabilities. Ergo every system has weaknesses waiting to be exploited, so regardless of which side you’re on, be careful!
The book is available on Amazon