The idea behind Cambridge Analytica's Facebook data-harvesting app came from a Palantir employee, with support from Eric Schmidt's daughter

Palantir is the surveillance company founded by authoritarian "libertarian" Peter Thiel; their business-development employee Alfredas Chmieliauskas was part of a cohort of Palantir employees who worked closely -- if informally -- with Cambridge Analytica as they hatched their plan to harvest 50,000,000 Facebook profiles with a deceptive "personality quiz" app.

Leaked internal Cambridge Analytica emails seen by the New York Times reveals that Chmieliauskas came up with the idea for using a personality quiz to gain entry to a web of Facebook friends-of-friends that would allow the company to geometrically expand its training dataset.

This validates the Parliamentary testimony of whistleblower Christopher Wylie (previoulsy) -- whom the NYT has upgraded to a "co-founder" of Cambridge Analytica -- who said "There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data."

Palantir categorically denied this accusation at first, insisting that it had rebuffed all of Cambridge Analytica's overtures out of a desire to remain "apolitical." Eventually, Palantir grudgingly admitted that Chmieliauskas did work with Cambridge Analytica "in a personal capacity."

Chmieliauskas was part of a group of people who collaborated on a Google Doc where Cambridge Analytica employees were brainstorming surveillance ideas in a project the company called "Big Daddy."

At the time, Cambridge Analytica's parent company, SCL, employed the daughter of Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt as an intern, and more leaked emails reveal that she lobbied hard for a link-up between Cambridge Analytica and Palantir. Schmidt was the architect of much of Google's tortuous surveillance-apologism, mocking privacy advocates and insisting that "privacy is dead" and "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Schmidt was clearly thinking of other people's privacy being dead, though: after Cnet published a dossier of public information on Schmidt's personal life, located through Google searches, Schmidt blacklisted the site's reporters and refused to allow Google representatives to speak to them for years afterwards.

Despite the lack of a formal partnership between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica, the two companies seem to have had an open-door policy regarding one another's researchers, according to Wylie; he describes routine drop-ins at one another's London offices.

“I had left field idea,” Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. “What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?” Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, “could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.

Spy Contractor’s Idea Helped Cambridge Analytica Harvest Facebook Data [Nicholas Confessore and Matthew Rosenberg/New York Times]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Dan Taylor, CC-BY)