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Foreign intrigue… Cambridge Analytica in Mexico?

24 January 2018

Via El Financiero (my translation.  Original includes screenshots of Facebooks “Foreigners in Mexico City (DF)” page in which Ms. Karo solicited employees.  Foreigners cannot work in political campaigns here, in case anyone was wondering).

Cambridge Analytica claims to have masterminded Donald Trump’s electoral triumph through targeted campaigns based on an analysis of user behavior on social networks, and has been accused of contributing to the polarization of American society.

The firm arrived in Mexico in 2016.  Ten months ago its CEO acknowledged its interest in entering political campaigns. But the firm has not registered with INE [the Mexican elections commission] to provide services to political parties and its head of operations in Mexico has erased all traces of its recruitment effort from the Internet.

The main investor of Cambridge Analytica is the conservative magnate Robert Mercer. Steve Bannon, the polemical former Trump adviser, was vice president of its board of directors until August 2016. Recently, Mercer publicly broke relations with Bannon and reaffirmed his support for the US president.

Cambridge Analytica’s presence in Mexico only became known on 4 April 2016 when its operations chief in Mexico, Arielle Karro, presented her poetry to the Senate as the guest of PAN Senator Ernesto Cordero.

Soon after, recruitment began. Data scientists confirmed to El Financiero Blooomberg that they received invitations from Karro to join Cabridge Analytica’s team.

One of the ways that Karro used to contact the data experts was LinkedIn. In one of these messages, held by El Financiero, he points out that Cambridge Analytica will be “the brain behind the presidential election in Mexico.” 

On  23 October 2017, Karro, without mentioning Cambridge Analytica or another company, posted a search on social networks for campaign managers, at 25 to 70,000 U.S. dollars a year for Tabasco, Morelos, Guanajuato, Chiapas, Yucatan, Veracruz, Puebla and Mexico City.  All of these states hold local elections this year.

These posts have been deleted, but until a month ago could still be found on-line. 

El Financiero Bloomberg sought to interview Arielle Karro by phone.  However, she declined to comment and a man, who introduced himself as his lawyer but did not give his name, indicated that she no longer works there and that “it is past history”.

Cambridge Analyica shares an office and web address with a company called Mowasat, at  Calle Bahía de las Palmas no. 1,colonia Verónica Anzures.  When El Financiero Bloomberg went to the address, security personnel have contradictory information as to whether Karro was on the premises, and for which company she worked.  

Mowisat was founded in 1016 as a holding company with Mexican and English capital that, according to its business model, offers internet services to marginalized communities, and electronic banking services for rural communities.  One is in operation in  Xochimilco .

Ulises de la Garza Valdés, senior advisor to the company’s board of directors, appears on the Mowisat payroll. Without being a member of PAN, he held positions in the Calderon administration: first as senior officer of DIF and then as general director of pension benefits (Patrimonio de la Beneficencia Pública) in the Secretariat of Health until   2011.

“WE HOPE TO BE INVOLVED IN POLITICS”

Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, in an interview last year for  Vice News,  revealed that his company is already worked with existing firms in this country with a view to becoming involved in political campaigns.

“We are eager to bring the technologies we developed in Europe and the United States to help commercial companies and brands, and also to help politicians and political campaigns to do some of the things we have done elsewhere,” Nix told Vice.

“We hope to get involved in politics, first, if there is an appetite to use these technologies, and second, if customers feel they need support,” he added.

NO REGISTRATION BEFORE THE INE

Although it is still unknown if they work with any political party and, if so, with which, the electoral authorities point out that the companies that decide to participate in campaigns or offer their services to campaigns have a legal obligations, which Cambridge Analytica has not fulfilled.  This includes the 100,000 peso fee for registration in the offering a service have to do so in a legal manner. If they are doing 100,000 pesos or more in business, they must register with INE.  So far, there is no record of the company in the Registro Nacional de Proveedores del INE.

“Operations for more than that amount with companies or with corporations that are not registered in the national registry of suppliers for a political party is an infraction to the general law of political parties and, on the part of the company, a possible crime,” said Benito Nacif, counselor of the National Electoral Institute.

Following the surprise victory of Trump, Cambridge Analytica has claimed to be an expert in political marketing through an exhausiv analysis of data to learn the affinities, affiliations, concerns and fears of the voters. Facebook is the preferred platform it uses.  

“It is observing reality, collecting data from that reality, analyzing it, cleaning it, making inferences, predictions or prescriptions, and then touching reality, that is, altering it, with the new information that you have just learned about these types of analysis”, explained Jesús Ramos, professor of data integration at ITAM.

Professor Javier Santiago Castillo, a former INE adviser, explained that it is not illegal to use this type of marketing. Although it is the first time it would be used in political campaigns in Mexico, it has been used for commercial purposes for some time. The illegality would be that the parties do not report this expense and the company does not have permission.

“The penalty would be a fine for the company and a fine for the party,” said Javier Santiago Castillo.

For national security specialists, Cambridge Analytica’s role in campaigning will be under a microscope, especially given suspicions that have arisen about its role in other nations’ politics.

“You have to be following  this company closely, especially because it will probably face criminal charges in the future months that in one way or another could impact their work in Mexico,” said the internationalist Ana Maria Salazar.

In the message sent by LinkedIn, Karro points out that Cambridge Analytica was also the brain behind the election of Nelson Mandela.

On its website, the firm indicates that “it was hired by a South African political party to mitigate the prospect of electoral violence.”

Alexander Nix founded Cambridge Analytica in 2013 to target the US market, after working 14 years as director of the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL), which was the company  that worked on the South African campaign, although there is no detail about his exact role in that campaign.  

Bloomberg Businessweek published a report in March 2017 in which it stated: “While Cambridge Analytica has faced scrutiny over whether its data models really work, a closer look at the past practices of its London-based subsidiary, SCL Group Ltd., reveals a corporate DNA less predisposed to dazzling technologies to influence voters and more towards political tricks “. 

I’d add that the Spanish daily El Diaro ran an extensive investigative report on Cambridge Analytica in that country, concluding their work was “psych-ops”.  

Dolia Estevez first looked at Cambridge, and Ms. Karro, back in November  of last year at Sin Embargo.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 January 2018 3:45 pm

    Hola tu puedes comentar y darle me gusta a mi blog.

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  1. Cambridge Analytica: “We did it in Mexico”. | The Mex Files

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