This month saw the exposure of a U.S. government-funded effort to create a Twitter-like social network in Cuba called ZunZuneo. It was quite a success, shutting down because it became too big, too fast. Disregarding the embargo on doing business in Cuba, it would likely not seem so bad, except for the secretive front companies, the theft of half a million Cuban cell phone numbers to jump start the network and the covert profiling of users’ political leanings through surveys. The humanitarian agency behind the project — USAID — said it just wanted to create a network where users could talk among themselves (like the networks that helped activists during the Arab Spring) but the fact that those running the network peppered users with casual surveys and quizzes to try to figure out their ideological bents tells a different story: that they wanted to know who was most sympathetic to the U.S., perhaps with plans to make those people the most influential on the network. This was a sophisticated attempt at cognitive hacking — oddly being done by an aid agency rather than the CIA.
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