Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Nix Grilled By MPs

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Alexander Nix admits obtaining Facebook data from Cambridge researcher in testy exchanges with MPs

Alexander Nix, the former boss of Cambridge Analytica, has refused to answer some questions about the full extent of the use of Facebook-sourced data when he was recalled to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The committee is investigating fake news, but it has been expanded to include the data harvesting scandal that emerged this year when Facebook data of 87 million users was harvested without their explicit consent.

Nix for the first time admitted that this data had been obtained by GSR, a firm set up by the University of Cambridge’s Dr Alexsandr Kogan. Nix admitted he had originally misled the committee when he had previously stated that Cambridge Analytica had not used data supplied to it by GSR.

Credit: Channel 4

Misled MPs

“Of course, the answer to this question should have been ‘yes,’” Nix was quoted as saying by Reuters, when asked if Cambridge Analytica still held data from the researcher.

“I accept some of my answers could have been clearer,” Nix was quoted by the BBC as saying. He said that he had believed he had been asked whether Cambridge Analytica was currently using GSR’s data, rather than if it had ever done so.

Alexander Nix was suspended as CEO by Cambridge Analytica in March with ‘immediate effect’ after he was caught on camera in a Channel Four sting operation, boasting of dirty tactics to discredit politicians online.

He said sorry for this undercover film, in which he claimed that Cambridge Analytica’s online campaign had played a decisive role in Trump’s election win. He admitted he had been foolish and had made exaggerated claims in order to attract what he thought was a potential client.

Nix also said that Channel 4 had heavily edited the footage to portray him in a worse light.

During his questioning, Nix also went on the attack a number of times and refused to answer questions about the full extent of its use of Facebook-sourced data.

ICO abuse?

Nix said that he could not answer those questions while an inquiry by the Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) was ongoing. He also accused the data protection watchdog of “abusing his parliamentary privilege” by using details revealed at an earlier appearance as the basis to raid his firm’s offices.

Nix also said he felt vindicated in saying Cambridge Analytica had not been involved in the Brexit campaign by a report by the Electoral Commission.

Nix also said that whistleblower Christopher Wylie was allegedly not truthful about the consultancy’s involvement in Brexit.

He also said that Wylie allegation that the Facebook data was the foundation of Cambridge Analytica’s business was not true. Nix said that instead the “cornerstone” (of data) had been voter registration information, lifestyle data and millions of other data points that it had acquired commercially.

Last month Cambridge Analytica announced it was shutting down.

The firm said it and its parent company, SCL Elections, had begun insolvency proceedings in the UK and would immediately cease operations.

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