Data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has suspended CEO Alexander Nix with ‘immediate effect’ after he was caught on camera boasting of dirty tactics to discredit politicians online.
Cambridge Analytica is currently embroiled in a furious row over the firm’s alleged use of personal data on tens of millions of individuals improperly obtained from Facebook.
Yesterday information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she would seek a warrant to examine the firm’s computer systems after she had demanded access, but the firm didn’t comply.
It began when Christopher Wylie, a former contractor with the company, alleged Cambridge Analytica gather large amounts of data through a personality quiz on Facebook called This is Your Digital Life.
Wylie claimed that 270,000 people took the quiz, but the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.
Cambridge Analytica denied the claims, and has said it deleted the data.
However at the weekend the New York Times and the Observer reported Wylie’s allegations, and said their investigation found evidence that Cambridge Analytica not only used the data, but still possessed most, or all of it.
But then on Monday evening things became a lot worse for the company, after Channel 4 News broadcast the results of its own investigation.
The broadcaster showed secretly recorded conversations with senior Cambridge Analytica executives, in which they boast of their ability to sway elections using digital and political trickery.
In the Channel 4 programme, an undercover reporter posed as a Sri Lankan businessman looking to discredit a political rival.
Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix appears in the secret recordings giving examples of how the company could make the necessary arrangements.
These arrangements included entrapping rival candidates in fake bribery stings and hiring prostitutes to seduce them.
Nix told the BBC’s Newsnight the report was a “misrepresentation of the facts”, adding he felt the company had been “deliberately entrapped”.
But his employers took an opposite view and have suspended Nix ‘with immediate effect’ pending a full and independent investigation.
“In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” said the firm.
“We have asked Dr. Alexander Tayler to serve as acting CEO while an independent investigation is launched to review those comments and allegations,” it added. “We have asked Julian Malins QC to lead this investigation, the findings of which the Board will share publicly in due course.”
“The Board will be monitoring the situation closely, working closely with Dr. Tayler, to ensure that Cambridge Analytica, in all of its operations, represents the firm’s values and delivers the highest-quality service to its clients,” it concluded.
Meanwhile Facebook itself, which has seen billions wiped off the value of the company after a dramatic fall in its share price, has also issued a public statement.
Earlier this week it said was conducting its own probe that includes audits of Cambridge Analytica and Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic who originally gathered the data.
It has also suspended Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group (Aleksandr Kogan’s firm) from Facebook for violating its data policies, a charge that both firms deny.
“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe,” said Facebook. “He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies.”
“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” said the social network. “We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.”
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