For-profit

Cambridge Analytica (CA)

Logo of Cambridge Analytica (link)
Website:

cambridgeanalytica.org

Formation:

2013

Parent Company:

SCL Group

Headquarters:

London, United Kingdom

Chief Executive Officer:

Alexander Nix

Type:

For-profit consulting firm

Status:

Defunct

Cambridge Analytica was a U.K.-based political consulting firm that worked on behalf of center-right political candidates and issue campaigns across the world. Now defunct, the firm was the center of a high-profile data scandal centered around the collection of Facebook profile information from over 8 million Americans. The firm’s previous clients included the Brexit “Leave” campaign, and the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Former Trump administration advisor Steve Bannon and Rebekah Mercer, a conservative donor and investor, were affiliated with the firm. [1]

Background

Cambridge Analytica was founded as a result of research conducted by a Cambridge University Ph.D. student named Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan, through his company Global Science Research, created a Facebook app called “This is Your Digital Life” to harvest profile data on over 270,000 Facebook users and their friends, resulting in the collection of millions of profiles. [2] Under Facebook rules, this type of data collection was allowed at the time, although the data was originally labelled as being collected for solely academic uses. Facebook amended its data collection policies in 2014 to prohibit collecting profile data on friends of friends, but the policy was not retroactive. [3]

The firm was frequently mentioned for its ties to Russian nationals and was identified as a potential source of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Cambridge Analytica had held conversations with Lukoil, a Russian oil conglomerate with ties to the Kremlin, about using the firm’s data, giving rise to the allegations. Aside from early conversations, there is no further evidence of Russian involvement in the company. [4]

Facebook Data Privacy Scandal

Beginning in 2015, new broke that campaigns, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, were using data from Cambridge Analytica to micro-target political advertisements based on data collected from Facebook. The early reports caused Facebook to remove Kogan’s app and pressured the firm to delete all data collected from Facebook. After Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, the firm began assisting his general election campaign with its targeted Facebook advertisements, a focal point of the campaign’s operations. [5]

In March of 2018, both The Guardian and the New York Times published reports revealing that Cambridge Analytica had harvested 8 million Facebook users’ data. The reports led to widespread condemnation of both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opened an investigation into Facebook’s data privacy policies, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to testify before Congress regarding the scandal. [6]

People

Alexander Nix worked as CEO of Cambridge Analytica during the data privacy scandal. Following the dissolution of the company after the scandal, the United Kingdom barred Nix from serving on a corporate board for seven years for what the government described as shady political consulting practices and dishonest business dealings. [7]

Several Americans were also involved with Cambridge Analytica, including billionaire Robert Mercer, who was reported to be the founding investor of the firm. Mercer was also a primary funder of Breitbart, the right-wing news website then run by future Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon also sat on the Cambridge Analytica board of directors. Bannon was initially connected to the firm’s parent company, SCL, and set up a meeting for Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah with Cambridge Analytica. [8] The Mercers reportedly took a liking to Nix and began working on plans to use the firm to support the Trump campaign. [9]

A few months after the Facebook revelations, Cambridge Analytica dissolved. Despite maintaining that it collected data from Facebook using collection methods that were allowed under Facebook guidelines at the time, the firm reported that the negative publicity had driven away most clients. [10]

References

  1. Dwoskin, Elizabeth. “Facebook bans Trump campaign’s data analytics firm for taking user data.” Washington Post. March 16, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/03/16/facebook-bans-trump-campaigns-data-analytics-firm-for-taking-user-data/ ^
  2. Cadwalladr, Carole. “‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower.” The Guardian. March 18, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump ^
  3. Meredith, Sam. : Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: A timeline of the data hijacking scandal.” CNBC. April 10, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/10/facebook-cambridge-analytica-a-timeline-of-the-data-hijacking-scandal.html ^
  4. Confessore, Nicholas. “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far.” New York Times. April 4, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-scandal-fallout.html ^
  5. Meredith, Sam. : Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: A timeline of the data hijacking scandal.” CNBC. April 10, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/10/facebook-cambridge-analytica-a-timeline-of-the-data-hijacking-scandal.html ^
  6. Meredith, Sam. : Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: A timeline of the data hijacking scandal.” CNBC. April 10, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/10/facebook-cambridge-analytica-a-timeline-of-the-data-hijacking-scandal.html ^
  7. Illing, Sean. “Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained.” Vox. April 4, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/16/15657512/cambridge-analytica-facebook-alexander-nix-christopher-wylie ^
  8. Cadwalladr, Carole. “‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower.” The Guardian. March 18, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump ^
  9. Illing, Sean. “Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained.” Vox. April 4, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/16/15657512/cambridge-analytica-facebook-alexander-nix-christopher-wylie   ^
  10. Solon, Olivia and Laughland, Oliver. “Cambridge Analytica closing after Facebook data harvesting scandal.” The Guardian. May, 2, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/02/cambridge-analytica-closing-down-after-facebook-row-reports-say ^
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