Cambridge Analytica, the UK company at the heart of the privacy breach that has wiped almost $40bn off the value of Facebook, has been characterised as a high-tech business that transformed data into a tool to wage “psychological warfare”.
But it is the analytics company that has now found itself in the line of fire.
Alexander Nix, chief executive, was suspended on Tuesday evening after the corporate identified for working within the background was thrown into the highlight after allegations that it had obtained and exploited data harvested from 50m Facebook customers throughout the marketing campaign to elect Donald Trump as US president.
Cambridge Analytica acted after Mr Nix was recorded by the UK’s Channel four Information, suggesting that the corporate used bribery, covert operatives and honeytraps, allegations it denies.
The corporate, based in 2016, boasts on its web site that information “drives all we do”, telling potential purchasers that it’ll “discover your voters and transfer them to motion”.
Its political division says that it has “redefined the connection between information and campaigns”, declaring proudly: “Inside the US alone, we now have performed a pivotal position in successful presidential races in addition to congressional and state elections.”
It’s that success, nonetheless, that has put the corporate on the centre of a scandal and drawn the eye of regulators on either side of the Atlantic, elevating questions on Fb’s administration of its customers’ information.
Cambridge Analytica denies that it has used Fb information in its modelling.
However the firm had braced itself to be raided by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office on Tuesday, after the watchdog stated it meant to look its databases and servers.
Cambridge Analytica, nonetheless, has additionally come beneath fireplace for much less technologically pushed enterprise practices after the Channel four report.
The corporate denied the allegations, saying: “We routinely undertake conversations with potential purchasers to attempt to tease out any unethical or unlawful intentions.”
Earlier than his suspension, Mr Nix, a sharp-dressed Etonian, had turn out to be the face of the obscure information analytics enterprise, extolling the virtues of its data-driven method to influencing political and advertising campaigns at main expertise and advertising occasions.
SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s guardian group, lists amongst its achievements world programmes aimed toward coping with anti-social rebel behaviour in Nepal, counter-narcotics efforts in Mexico, and combating terrorist recruitment throughout the Pacific Rim.
The Channel four report additionally featured Mark Turnbull, managing director of its political division, and a former govt at Bell Pottinger, the general public relations agency that collapsed final 12 months following accusations that it stoked racial stress in South Africa.
Tim Bell, the previous adviser to Margaret Thatcher who co-founded Bell Pottinger earlier than leaving in 2016, confirmed Mr Turnbull had performed a number one position in his former firm’s geopolitical work. This concerned advising on abroad election campaigns, together with in Kenya and Ukraine, and managing the reputations of worldwide political leaders.
Nevertheless, Lord Bell doubts the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s work.
“I’m a sceptic on what they do for you,” he stated. “I personally don’t consider it achieves something.”
Mr Turnbull, Cambridge Analytica and Mr Nix didn’t reply to requests for remark for this text.
Some critics have additionally questioned the accuracy of Cambridge Analytica’s insights. In accordance with David Sumpter, professor of arithmetic at Uppsala college, who analysed the database, Fb’s insights into pursuits and private data solely result in a 60 per cent likelihood of accuracy on predicting a trait — for instance, whether or not a person is neurotic.
But Cambridge Analytics, is credited with the usage of information and microtargeting of political messaging to assist Mr Trump’s presidential run. Steve Bannon, a former adviser to the president who helped lead the Trump’s election marketing campaign, was an govt on the agency.
It has additionally been extensively reported that a main investor in SCL Group is the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who helped bankroll the Trump win. Mr Mercer’s daughters Jennifer and Rebekah, sit on the board of Emerdata, an SCL-linked firm.
The most recent accounts filed to Corporations Home don’t cowl the work Cambridge Analytica did for the Trump election marketing campaign, so its monetary well being is unclear. SCL Elections, one of many companies, obtained £24.2m in revenue from Cambridge Analytica in 2016, the final 12 months for which figures can be found and double the earnings SCL took out from the London firm in 2015.
With Fb, UK politicians and information watchdogs all now demanding to know in superb element how the corporate has been working, discretion is a luxurious it might now not have the ability to afford.