Quick suggestion for investigating SCL’s and Cambridge Analytica’s data collection

I explain here how to do Subject Access Requests to get access to the data Cambridge Analytica holds about you. This is a legal opportunity, due to Cambridge Analytica’s “establishment” in the UK.

It would be particularly interesting for lots of Americans to do this. Unfortunately, it costs GBP 10, there is a bit of (unnecessary) friction, and it is unlikely to be all that useful if individuals requesting their data are left alone to evaluate what they get back.

There needs to be a catalyzer enabling collective and crowdsourced investigation.

So I have this suggestion:

  1. A trusted party with a UK or US bank account starts a GoFundMe or similar page for some target amount, say 20 x GBP 10 (or more!). That trusted third party then directly pays that money to SCL’s data compliance team.
  2. Simultaneously, journalists are recruited from either the MuckRock Slack channel or Columbia University’s Global Muckracking MOOC, preferably from each US swing state, and assisted in doing requests to Cambridge Analytica using the template I provide here. Note that this asks for more than just the data, but also sources and identifiers with vendors, which opens the possibility of chaining Subject Access Requests (within different legal regimes, which is actually a yuge opportunity — to be explained later).
  3. Some kind of hotline (let’s say a specific Twitter account) is set up to provide basic legal assistance going through the process. My company’s Twitter account @PersonalDataIO would be happy to play that rôle, or redirect to someone better suited. (Note: I have received offers of formal legal assistance from UK solicitors for conducting Subject Access Requests).
  4. The journalists are encouraged to centralize their feedback on the results, in order to make the whole experience useful for a large audience. One journalist could write about the process itself, another about the legal aspects, yet another about the changing legal landscape in Europe and its potential worldwide impact, many articles could be written about the responses obtained, and, last but not least, an article could be written about the experience of seeing your own life summarized into a few bytes held by an organization weaponizing information on behalf of a billionaire’s political interests.

Any organization interested in helping set up the logistics of this, and particularly a bank account in UK or US for the fundraising, is most welcome to contact me!

Note: It is really stupid to have to fundraise for such a low amount. I have myself offered to friends and contacts to pay for ten such requests. In reality I partly want to see if a news organisation or a foundation would just step forward, and set up a more formal procedure in case this works very well and needs to be scaled up.

Thanks for reading! My name is Paul-Olivier Dehaye, I am a mathematician at the University of Zurich, and the co-founder of PersonalData.IO. I have contributed a lot of the research behind the VICE article The Data That Turned the World Upside Down and the Guardian article Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media, and written extensively on my own about Cambridge Analytica’s microtargeting of low information voters, the (dis)information mercenaries now controlling Trump’s databases, and given practical advice on how to access your own Cambridge Analytica data.