Call this the Commiebridge Analytica:
Tens of thousands of Australians — including celebrities, politicians and journalists — have had their data collected by a company with links to Chinese military and intelligence networks.
Researchers say the massive collection of information is being used as a “psychological warfare” tool to manipulate public opinion in Australia.
The database was published overnight after it was leaked to a US academic, and it shows 2.4 million people around the world have been targeted — including 35,000 Australians.
The data was collected by Chinese company Zhenhua Data which is understood to be used by China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security.
Zhenhua has the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party as its main clients.
Zhenhua is in denial: “The report is seriously untrue.”
Serious or not, it’s not all just routine internet trawling, as the analysis of the database suggests:
Large amounts of the data was open source data, there was approximately by our estimates 10- 20% of the data was not publicly or easily available from public sources. Some of the non-public data on individuals we remain unsure where the data comes from or how it was obtained. We have reason to believe some of the data comes from unauthorized data access such as hacking but we cannot be certain. Non-open source data had a tendency to tie to higher security individuals but not always.
Seeing it’s China, you can be virtually certain that hacking has been involved, directly or indirectly.
Those on the database – including the elite group of “special interest” or “politically exposed” – are a mixed bag including politicians and their families, public servants, business people, journalists, entertainers, and even criminal figures across the democratic world, including Australia, Great Britain and India.
Of course, why anyone should be surprised that an authoritarian dictatorship with global ambitions is engaging in that sort of “opposition research” information gathering is surprising in itself. China’s Communist Party might have ditched Marx but has very much stuck with Lenin, the advocate of the leading role of the political elite. The Party does it to the Chinese people to aid the task of social control. It can’t directly control foreigners, but it tries to influence them. Needless to say, the Zhenhua database is nothing compared to the intelligence files China keeps on their foreign friends and enemies.
Whenever a communist regime engages in a hanky-panky, you can trust people like Bernard Keane at Crikey to wave the moral equivalence trump card, cheerfully arguing that we – our governments and our businesses – are doing exactly the same thing and worse:
That’s the entire business model of surveillance capitalism. That’s why profiles of all of us are created and sold by social media platforms, marketing firms, data miners and ad agencies without most of us having a clue who is handling our information. Not even the 100,000-word terms and conditions we don’t read before agreeing to use a social media platform list who eventually gets our data.
It’s also no worse than what Australia’s major political parties do to each of us. They put together profiles of every single voter, based not just on banal details from the electoral roll but on every piece of public data they can find online. They also target social media advertising using exactly the kind of information scraped together by Shenzhen Zhenhua Data.
Putting aside the question of the hacked personal information on the Chinese database, you can count on Keanes of this world – just like you could during the Cold War between the Soviet empire and the West – to ignore the respective motivations and ends (i.e. whether something is done in the pursuit of tyranny or against it) or, worse, to equate them. We’re as bad as the other side, they would cry while enjoying all the benefits and freedoms of living and writing in a, for all its faults, reasonably free and democratic society. Call me picky, but – as much as I don’t like the activity itself – I’m somewhat less worried about Facebook or some government agency collecting my online behaviour data than the same being done by a regime which keeps one million Uighurs in concentration camps and generally denies any and all human rights to the other billion plus of its citizens. That probably makes me not sophisticated enough to write for a site like Crickey, but hey, you can’t have it all. As the dastardly spying Facebook is now putting Crikey ads in my newsfeed, I’m looking forward to Bernard starting up Crikey China service from Shanghai to fearlessly hold the powers that be to account.