Friday, April 20, 2018

Tribute | Gracias, Arsene

Resigned. Fired. Gone. Whatever. Yes, Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal at the end of the season – that’s the latest news from London Colney. The long wait is over. Finally. Mama has given a signal.

Whoah! We can now watch football again.

With us, he leaves memories. The memorable quotes. The transformation. The sleek football. The training methods. The diet regime. The 5-1 away against Inter Milan. The 3-1 win against Juventus. The 4-2 against Liverpool. The duels with Fergie. The catfights with Mourinho. The cheekiness. The stubbornness. The innocent water bottles tortured from the touchline. The bad signings. More transformation (the bad one). The 8-2 reverse at United. Everything.

We are now ready for the transition. They’ll mock us, the naysayers. A season or two, and we’ll find our feet again. Henry, Arteta, Vieira, Simone, Jardim. Anyone. Someone with an ounce of a football brain. Anyone that is not Brendan Rogers, Mourinho, Moyes or Sam Allardyce. Anyone decent enough. Maybe Maurizio Sarri. Or Eusebio Di Francesco. Or Zidane (allow me to dream, people. With Wenger gone, anything is possible).

"This is one of the most difficult days we’ve ever had in all our years in Sport blah blah blah […]" – Stan Kroenke. He’s lied. What’s difficult about letting go of an abusive partner –  Breaking the news, perhaps? Maybe he’s been practicing how to say: "au revoir" and make it sound like an all-expenses-paid holiday trip to Ibiza.

I feel more excited than a juvenile on a typical 1990s Christmas day. More elated than Piers Morgan will ever be. I am in the mood for a #WengerResignationParty. Invites, anyone? We’ll foot the bill.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tribute | Adios, Winnie

South African anti-apartheid activist. That’s the phrase most widely used to describe the Xhosa woman born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela, the woman the world grew to know as Winnie Mandela.

Social worker by training and political activist by trade, Winnie met Nelson Mandela when she was only 22, in 1957. They would live together for a paltry six years before Mandela was jailed in 1963.

She didn’t escape the coolers herself, doing a good 18 months in 1969, undergoing torture, house arrest, and solitary confinement in the process.

While that didn’t kill her zeal for activism, it certainly took a toll on her struggle, eventually driving her to certain extremes.

One of these was founding of Mandela United Football Club, the gang that was responsible for the murder of a 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi. Stompie had been kidnapped with three other boys.

In April 1986, she appeared to endorse the practice of necklacing (burning people alive using car tyres and petrol) in a publicized speech.

"With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country”, she said, triggering a chain reaction that would result in dozens of deaths either by stoning, shooting or outright torture.

She was sentenced to six years for kidnap, which was reduced to a fine on appeal. It was only a portion of truths she never wanted revisited. She would later blame Mandela for a series of truces that the latter got involved in, much later.

"This name Mandela is an albatross around the necks of my family. You all must realize that Mandela was not the only man who suffered. There were many others, hundreds who languished in prison and died", she once said, in an interview The Standard, a UK newspaper.

She was unamused that a giant statue of Mandela had been erected in central Johannesburg. She wanted everybody else involved in the struggle given equal recognition. Steve Biko, Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe and the rest of them all.

Winnie blamed Mandela for having negotiated a bad deal for the blacks. She believed they were not as economically empowered as she had envisaged.

Her transgressions could only serve to prove that Winnie was as human as they come. While she was no saint, her erstwhile secret-now-turned public love affair with Dali Mpofu – a bubbly lawyer 26 years her junior – only served to wreck her marriage.

The eventual revelations appeared to effectively crush Mandela, driving him to finalize the couple’s much-publicized divorce in 1996.

"Can I put it simply, my lord? If the entire universe tried to persuade me to reconcile with the defendant. I would not. I am determined to get rid of this marriage", he said, effectively ending their 38-year relationship.

Today, Winnie Mandela signs out having been unwell since the turn of the year. She was 81.

Nomzamo, one of her names, means "She who tries". And try and fight she did, eternally etching her name in the pantheon of South African greats. What a heroine! What a colossus!

Rest thee well, Winnie Mandela.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Feature | Cambridge Analytica: A dummy’s digest on the battle with Facebook and its role in Kenya, US elections

"I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS. People just submitted it. They trust me. Dumb fucks" – Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, 2004.

14 years since that infamous statement, Facebook’s founder finds himself in a spot of bother, following accusations of failure to protect users’ private data.

The data breach scandal comes against the backdrop of revelations that the British consulting firm – Cambridge Analytica (CA) – obtained illegal access to private data for close to 50 million Facebook users.

#CA’s biggest crime

The firm is accused of harvesting data of up to 50 million Facebook users without their consent in their bid to help Donald Trump win the US election in November 2016.

They were found to have played similar roles in several countries including Italy, India, UK, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Kenya.

#The Genesis

In the summer of 2014, CA hired Aleksandr Kogan – a Soviet-born American researcher – to gather basic profile information of Facebook users along with what they chose to "like".

About 270,000 Facebook users, most of whom were paid a small amount, downloaded Kogan’s app – "Thisisyourdigitallife" – which took the form of a personality survey.

Kogan collected data not just on the 270,000, but on their Facebook friends as well – if their privacy settings allowed it. Their final haul was no less a whopping 50 million users.

The mined data was then saved into a private database instead of immediately deleting it (as had been agreed with Facebook) before being passed on to CA.

CA eventually used this information to make 30 million "psychographic" profiles about the US electorate.

Results of the analysis were used to sway, manipulate and/or influence electorate voting patterns in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Kogan’s app was subsequently removed in 2015 following the initial discovery of the breach, but the damage had already been done.

#The strategy

Using the collected data, CA was able to collate the electorate’s psychological attributes for profiling. They included personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles.
The data was then used to build algorithms that analyze personality traits linked to voting behavior, identify possible swing voters and implement hyper-targeted messaging. This was to be executed via online platforms such as Facebook and other online services.

CA were smart in their modus operandi. They didn’t start with practices that might be labeled "political", but with consumer data and psychological profiles.

They had amassed, on average, 5,000 data points about the behavioral trends of American citizens from health concerns to car ownership, according to

Steve Bannon, a founding board member at CA, was eventually appointed Donald Trump's senior counselor and chief strategist in the Trump administration.

Cambridge Analytica’s overall influence on the final election outcome may remain contentious, but the fact that Donald Trump spent a significantly very little money speaks volumes about the effectiveness of personality-based advertising.

#The foray into Kenya

There were concerns raised by political commentators, about how Kenyans’ personal data was accessed by political parties or even government institutions.

SMS texts during the campaign season appeared to suggest that individuals’ voter registration information, social media data, and telephone numbers had been independently linked. How this was done remains unclear.

"We rebranded the entire party twice, wrote the manifesto, did research, analysis and messaging.

I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate," said Mark Turnbull, a director at CA, of his firm’s work for Jubilee, Uhuru Kenyatta’s political affiliate.

On more than two occasions, Cambridge Analytica conducted surveys of 50,000 people to ascertain the Kenyan electorate’s expectations.

Kenyatta's political romance with CA had started in 2013, before upping the ante in the 2017 election.

So, yeah. Those articulate speeches that made Uhuru Kenyatta sound like the coolest president on the continent were a result of the former’s long-term involvement with CA.

#The dirty tricks

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News revealed a much darker range of services offered by CA. Revelations were made, of how honey traps, spies, and fake news had been used to help clients.

Turnbull, at some point, admitted to using proxy organizations, such as charities or activist groups, to discreetly funnel negative material about other candidates onto social media.

There were reports about the use of shadowy online propaganda tools, the most prominent of them being the "Defeat Crooked Hillary" ads.

Others included the use of bribes, former spies, and Ukrainian sex workers to entrap politicians around the world.

In other countries, CA worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to look for what they called “political dirt”. The company has since denied the allegations.

#Cambridge Analytica’s other projects

Prior to this bombshell, and riding on the crest of their earlier claims to have eased Trump’s journey to the US top office, CA was said to be in talks with a large, unnamed large opposition party in India – believed to be the Congress Party – for the upcoming general elections in 2019.

In an August 2017 pitch to the political party, the firm is said to have presented a data-driven blueprint to target voters on social media, analyzing online user behavior and "connecting the dots" across different citizen databases.

#Did facebook violate any rules?

One of the prerequisites prompts during a facebook account opening is the data and cookie use policy. In part, it reads thus;

"Subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).

This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it".

There’s the catch. The terms are not explicit about sharing of user data with third parties. Individual countries, however, could be having different laws. Whether these will affect Facebook, in the long run, remains to be seen

#Zuckerberg’s official response

"I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I'm responsible for what happens on our platform," cooed Zuckerberg, finally owning up and appearing remorseful over how everything had panned out.

"I'm serious about doing what it takes to protect our community", he went on. He said Facebook would also be restricting developers' data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse".

#Is it about time we quit facebook?

It depends on one’s motive for being there in the first place. Facebook has fostered the growth of e-commerce and made people harness Zuckerberg’s much-touted connectedness.

Following the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, there were growing campaigns to quit facebook under the hashtag #deletefacebook.

Elon Musk, the Tesla founder and entrepreneur was one of the first high profile figures to jump onto the #deletefacebook bandwagon, deleting facebook pages for two of his companies – Tesla and Space X.

The fad never caught on, initially, but Facebook’s stock market value would eventually take a 5% tumble.

Zuckerberg’s initial purpose of creating the platform had been to "create open information and connectedness". Facebook has done this, and so much more.

#Are we safe online, anymore?

Zuckerberg seems to suggest so. But you wouldn’t want to bet on this. Forget the much-hyped end-to-end encryption and several security layer levels and all that complex jargon that is supposed to make our private data appear walled.

A mere change of privacy settings may give you temporary reprieve, but your data could only be an algorithm away from laying you bare.

You just might have to exercise caution on how much of your data is out there. Social media remains the one avenue best placed to craft what Robert Sebunya calls a "Virtual Venn Diagram" of one’s personality.

It’s the one place where one will concurrently play saint on their wall while being Lucifer’s darling in their private inbox.

Your history remains holed up in Zuckerberg's servers unless he chooses to expunge it without passing it on to anyone else. He retains the key to your privacy. You remain at his mercy.

Whether you change your name from Buladina Nakanjako to Bootylicious Pretty Kitty Cat and 1,000 other aliases, your profile id (among others) remains the same.

You can still be smoked out, anytime.