The data firm that helped Trump win doesn’t think his White House looks so fun

Not "the most fun place to be right now."
Image: POOL/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Even the man who helped head Donald Trump’s data operations during the 2016 election doesn’t think the White House is the place to be these days.

Speaking at an advertising event in Sydney on Monday, Cambridge Analytica’s head of product, Matt Oczkowski, was responding to an audience question about the company’s ethics when he commented, “The White House doesn’t look like the most fun place to be right now.”

“I just figure out how to help people win elections, which is a much better place to be in.”

The controversial firm, which claims to use “big data and advanced psychographics” to target voters, has been under the spotlight after allegedly being involved in the pro-Brexit campaign as well as the U.S. presidential election.

Though many have expressed skepticism about the true impact of the firm’s techniques, its ties to the White House and Republican donors, as well as its broad use of voter data in at least two countries, have kept it in the news.

Invited to speak about the mechanics of Trump’s digital campaign, the product head spun Cambridge Analytica’s tale as that of a scrappy underdog against the Hillary Clinton machine.

The firm came aboard the president’s team in May 2016, when there was no database infrastructure “at all,” according to Oczkowski. As well as using the Republican National Committee’s voter data, the team built Trump his own data set dubbed “Alamo” from donations, volunteers, signups and store transactions.

“We help our clients figure out who to talk to and what to say to them,” Oczkowski said. “Our approach, roughly, is a combination of data science, behavioural science, psych-techniques, combined with big data.”

In Oczkowski’s view, the Trump campaign was more data-driven than the press gave it credit for. Despite reporting about Trump’s “erratic” travel schedule, Oczkowski said each rally location was carefully chosen after running the numbers of likely audience and enthusiasm.

“This campaign was almost entirely data driven, outside of Mr. Trump, because he does his own thing,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Oczkowski did not appear happy to hype the company’s much-discussed “psychological approach” to polling and analytics in the context of the Trump election contrary to spin the company’s used in the past, including with Mashable. (An interview with Oczkowski in Sydney was cancelled.)

Perhaps that’s because of pushback from the likes of Gary Coby, who handled the Trump campaign’s digital advertising.

As BuzzFeed pointed out in a piece debunking the effectiveness of the company’s behavioural techniques, he tweeted that a claim by the firm’s CEO Alexander Nix that it “tested more than 175,000 different Facebook ad variations based on personality types” in one day was “complete rubbish.”

One audience member commented Monday that Oczkowski’s talk did not particularly address the use of psychographic data, despite being titled “Digital human and technology Trump’s campaign target ads based on a psychological approach.”

“I’ve said this many times,” he said. “We didn’t get the chance to use much psychographics in the Trump campaign, mostly because we built the infrastructure in five months.

“Maybe in 2020, we’ll get a chance to do a lot more on the psych side.”

In response to a question about the shift in message, a Cambridge Analytica spokesman said the company never claimed to have used psychographics in the U.S. presidential election. “We have always been very clear to say that we did not have the opportunity to dive deeply into our psychographic offering because we simply didn’t have the time,” he said.

Oczkowski also pushed back on accusations his firm has weaponised consumer data to manipulate voter sentiment, using it to target voters who never imagined their personal information would be used in such a way.

“Maybe in 2020, we’ll get a chance to do a lot more on the psych side.”

“Privacy is a massive concern,” he said. “There is a very fine line, but the good thing about political campaigns is all the data we use is mostly opted-in data,” he said. “People are usually self reporting this data to that end, whether it be through surveys or publicly available campaign data.

“It’s not like this is super intrusive [personally identifiable information], healthcare data we’re dealing with here.”

Showing a slide in which he claimed to have more than 1,000 data points on every U.S. adult, he said it wasn’t being pointed out “in a creepy way,” given it was mostly consumer data: “Things like purchase history, what car you own, what magazines you subscribe to,” he explained. “The younger you are, the more data is openly available.”

The company is looking to set up shop in Australia, with plans to meet with the conservative Liberal Party, according to Reuters.

UPDATE: April 3, 2017, 8:01 p.m. AESTComment added from Cambridge Analytica.

WATCH: SpaceX changed the space flight game and Elon Musk is beyond giddy

More From this publisher : HERE