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Disinformation as a service? DaaS not good!

Mike Elgan | Sept. 11, 2017
'Computational propaganda' started in politics, but may be coming soon to the world of business.


Get ready for Antidisinformation Technology

This publication is all about IT, which of course stands for "information technology."

Enterprise technology is all about managing, protecting, storing, processing, using, accessing, sharing and generally taking advantage of what is assumed to be true, factual information. This true information comes under threat from user error, hackers, natural disasters and other calamities. Security is paramount, because rivals and criminals want to profit from stealing true information - or holding it for ransom.

In the very near future, it's likely that the focus of IT security will be forced to shift from keeping information safe to keeping information true.

Let me give you two dark scenarios.

Industrial espionage - the theft of trade secrets - costs the U.S. economy between $225 billion and $600 billion per year, according to the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property.

Trade secret thieves steal information because they're lagging behind, and want to level the playing field quickly and cheaply. But what if they could level it by scrambling the trade secrets of competitors, and falsifying data internally? What if they could manufacture evidence of criminal wrongdoing by planting email conversations that never occurred or use fake information to blackmail corporate officers? What if they could dry up investment by feeding false information to investors?

And disinformation could be massively useful for negative marketing.

In fact, this is what's happening in politics. During the Cold War, the West said "Democracy is better!" And the Soviet Block said "No, Communism is better!"

But now that's been reversed. Russian citizens know that Russia has major problems, such as official corruption, and are inclined to believe that America and Western Europe are better governed. But rather than convince Russians that Russia is better, they've set out instead to both demonstrate that the West is in chaos and also to actually try to throw it into chaos through computational propaganda that undermines democracy.


The hit on business

The same could work with marketing. Let's say some unscrupulous company in Kleptocrastan makes smartphones that compete with Apple's iPhone. Instead of touting the benefits of their phone, they could burn Apple's reputation globally through computational propaganda. Using Facebook's analytics, they could find every potential iPhone buyer, and do a psychological profile on each person. They could then serve up relentless posts from fake users sharing fake news about Apple's environmental abuses to this user, and electrical hazards to that user, and the high cost of repairs to yet another user - exploiting each individual person's most pressing concerns.

They could fabricate data on iPhone reliability, plant stories about violent attacks against iPhone users and create fake videos showing Apple executives abusing workers. All this false information could be guided along by A.I. and delivered invisibly, behind the scenes and under the radar.


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