Scary and amusing at the same time
There was much laughter on social media yesterday after the New York Times reported
that Cambridge Analytica had planned to make use of a cryptocurrency and raise money via an Initial Coin Offering.
Yes, the company accused of making sinister moves to swing elections through mysterious work with data, and maybe even more traditional ‘black ops,’ was also jumping on the crypto train by raising money through an ICO – a method often associated with scams
and failed promises
Cambridge Analytica has always been a bundle of contradictions. It simultaneously pushed against, and seemed to revel in, its reputation as a shadowy kingmaker. Its approach to social media is often framed as a threat to democracy, and yet at the same time it’s viewed by many online marketers as nothing special.
Personally, I’ve swung back and forth between the two positions. Last year, I thought a lot of the accusations against the company were probably overblown. More recently, it was clear they’d used Facebook data obtained in an ethically sketchy way and had boasted of some very dodgy dealings in that secret Channel 4 News filming
Now we learn it was planning an ICO, my opinion of them is swinging all over the shop. 'Let’s hold an ICO’ is generally a phrase that raises a smirk among technology watchers these days, and it’s funny to think of Alexander Nix – often portrayed by the media in Bond villain terms – getting excited about the cheap and scammy end of the crypto world.
The New York Times says the ICO would have helped Cambridge Analytica set up a platform to give people more control of their data and sell it to advertisers. That’s quite a positive move – maybe they were the good guys all along? But with all that personal data passing through their hands, what else could they do with it? That sounds sinister! Argh! I don’t know what to think anymore.
Maybe the best thing to do is be intrigued by, wary of, and amused by, Cambridge Analytica, all at the same time.