Cambridge Analytica Not Involved In Brexit Vote, Watchdog Concludes

The data protection watchdog in the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has concluded its investigation into whether political consultancy Cambridge Analytica was involved in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

That vote over the UK’s exit from the European Union, resulted in success for the “leave” campaign.

In April 2018 the British parliament published evidence that alleged campaign group Leave.EU had benefited from work by Cambridge Analytica.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. Image credit: ICO

ICO probe

“Vote Leave” however had become the official leave campaign, beating out Leave.EU. That said Leave.EU continued to campaign in the run-up to the referendum.

The ICO had begun a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes in May 2017, and when the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought it raised its offices and seized servers in 2018.

Now the three year investigation has concluded that Cambridge Analytica was “not involved” in the EU referendum.

Cambridge Analytica was alleged to have done work to demonstrate its capabilities for Leave.EU, but ICO said the analytics firm was not involved in the 2016 vote “beyond some initial enquiries made… in the early stages” around UKIP.

Data scandal

In July 2019 the FTC in the US approved a record-breaking fine of $5 billion (£4bn) for Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal 2018.

Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of a row in 2018 over the alleged misuse of personal data on 87 million people, mostly in the US, and such as the scandal that the political consultancy was forced to shut down soon afterwards.

Its data was allegedly used in the Brexit vote and the 2016 US Presidential election.

In July 2018 Facebook was fined £500,000 by the ICO, over its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, namely for not doing enough to protect its users from their data being “harvested” for political purposes.

And this week in a letter to the Culture and Media Select Committee, the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the scale of the investigation “was unprecedented for a data protection authority.”

“It highlighted the whole ecosystem of personal data in political campaigns,” she wrote. “I believe that citizens are better informed as a result and policymakers are alive to the risks of data misuse. It has led to improvements in oversight arrangements and changes in operating practices of the major technology platforms.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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