The Northern Spy
History's Most Ironic Question
The Spy notes
and passes on verbatim with little comment (it is its own commentary) the following advertisment:
Is your target audience completely persuaded?
Let Vologda Analytica do it for you. Our extensive data sets and state-of-the-art algorithms can analyze any target population and build your campaign. Whether your product is political, household or industrial goods, or your services, our techniques have proven effective with a wide variety of clients and situations and will work in yours as well.
We begin by comparing your targets with our general population, analyzing their vulnerabilities within their particular social environment, and weaving a fabric of data around them that reinforces their proclivities in directions most favourable to you. This can be as simple as reinforcing the beliefs they evidence by virtue of the context of their very social connections--a few posts here and there from people they know can work wonders, and your targets are unlikely ever to check the origin of those posts.
We can also insert testimonials from people whom your prospective clients, customers, or voters follow on social media or have in their contact lists. Peer pressure is a powerful and effective tool.
News items are our speciality. Whether we can find actual appropriate ones or not, our highly skilled staff of writers can create such items to order for any application--whether it be negative news about your opponents or competitors, pictures of and testimonials from celebrities (some of them even real people) using or endorsing your products. We can also generate data or test results from labs or opinion polls to support you whose authenticity few people could question.
If you prefer, we have a lineup of political, economic, and scientists with eminent-sounding names who are ready to express well-crafted evidence-based concerns about whatever it is your opponents or competitors are saying, doing, or making. Depending on your situation and the state of you current advertising campaign, these efforts can range from explicit to subtle.
For what we deliver, our fees are modest and our results are guaranteed. If you do not see measurable improvement within ninety days in people's favourable views of you, your message, or your product, we will cheerfully refund our fee.
The Spy managed to get an interview
With Ivan Pilatovich, the president and COO of Vologda Analytica.
Q. How did you obtain all the personal data you use to target your influence?
A. Telephone books, publicly available birth and death records, obituaries in newspapers, corporate and organizational lists of officers and contacts, and by scraping people's own sites and those of their social media friends. You would be astonished how much information is freely available for harvesters like us.
Q. What about privacy laws?
A. Come, come. There is no such thing as privacy any more. Get used to it. Hey, they or their friends, associates or employers posted the information, so it's ours as well as much as it is their own.
Q. How do you sift out the audience to target for a campaign?
A. From the readily available traces they leave of their lives--membership in certain organizations, who their friends are and what they believe, others' referrals, postings, their responses to questionnaires we seed...
Q. (interrupting) Do people realize for what you are going to use the data they give you by answering those questions?
A. We pay a small fee for their answers, and they sign a disclaimer. It's all perfectly legal. We then collate the data with their internet tracks and our other information, and voila! a complete profile of purchasing and political habits, views, and proclivities.
Q. For how many people have you these profiles?
A. That's a moving statistic. Last time I checked it was about two hundred forty million. But that was several weeks ago. It may be double by now.
Q. And you guarantee your results?
A. Experience, my good fellow. We've swayed a referendum in England, turned a presidential campaign around, and turned a dozen obscure brands and services into household names. We know our techniques work.
Q. But surely your business can best be described as generating fake news to influence people.
A. Quite the contrary. Once we determine what people are already inclined to believe, we simply reinforce it. We are best described as telling people what their itching ears already want to hear.
Q. Have you no concern for truth?
A. What is truth?
--The Northern Spy
Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics, Associate Dean of Science and Chair of the University Senate at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.
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