BBB: Cambridge Analytica reportedly working on cryptocurrency

By: Claire Halloran

Welcome to Bitcoin, Bubbles, and the Blockchain. This is a weekly column focused on the world of cryptocurrencies and the future of digital capitalism.

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In an interview with The New York Times, a former Cambridge Analytica employee  Brittany Kaiser revealed that the company had been quietly working on entering the cryptosphere. Cambridge Analytica has been in the news for its involvement in a Facebook data scandal after misusing its collection of user’s personal data.

Months before the Facebook scandal came to light, during the summer of 2017, Cambridge Analytica was creating a cryptocurrency designed for an initial coin offering, or ICO. ICO’s are a novel, yet often scrutinized fund-raising method that is used for cryptocurrencies. Through private pitch meetings with blockchain companies, Cambridge Analytical had hoped to raise about $30 million through ICO, according to Reuters.

“Prior to the Facebook controversy, we were developing a suite of technologies to help individuals reclaim their personal data from corporate entities and to have full transparency and control over how their personal data are used,” a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said in an email statement to Reuters. “We were exploring multiple options for people to manage and monetize their personal data, including blockchain technology.”

Essentially, the currency would be funding a program to allow for private citizens to pay for a system in which they could store and sell their own data to advertisers.

One example of this is if Cambridge Analytica sent cryptocurrency to different areas and people throughout the United States, or any country, to incentivize them to fill out surveys. The data from the surveys would then be collected by Cambridge Analytica and used to shape political campaigns and directed advertisements.

The virtual currency was also pitched to blockchain companies who were interested in using predictive modeling to target investors. They would be using the same psychographic procedures as they used in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to allow for precisely targeted advertising.

“Who knows more about the usage of personal data than Cambridge Analytica?” Kaiser said. “So why not build a platform that reconstructs the way that works?”

One critic, Jill Carlson, a consultant for several blockchain companies who attended the Cambridge Analytica pitch meetings, denounced the pursuit, as she said it went against everything blockchain stood for. Blockchain technology is typically praised for decentralizing operations, and putting more power into the hands of the people.

“The way that Cambridge Analytica was talking about it, they were viewing it as a means of being able to basically inflict government control and private corporate control over individuals, which just takes the whole initial premise of this technology and turns it on its head in this very dystopian way,” Carlson said.

It is not known if Cambridge Analytica is still pursuing the endeavor.

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