Cambridge Analytica: Facebook data-harvest firm to close shop
Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the centre of the Facebook data-sharing scandal, is shutting down.
The firm was accused of improperly obtaining personal information on behalf of political clients.
According to Facebook, data about up to 87 million of its members was harvested by an app and then passed on to the political consultancy.
The social network said its own probe into the matter would continue.
“This doesn’t change our commitment and determination to understand exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said a spokesman.
“We are continuing with our investigation in cooperation with the relevant authorities.”
Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica, referred the BBC to a statement on the firm’s website.
“Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the company’s efforts to correct the record, has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas,” it said.
“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully… the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.
“As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business.”
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The statement added that its parent company SCL Elections was also commencing bankruptcy proceedings.
A journalist, whose investigation for the Observer newspaper first exposed the data privacy scandal, has suggested that the public remains sceptical.
The chair of a UK parliament committee investigating the firm’s activities also raised concerns about Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections’ move.
“They are party to very serious investigations and those investigations cannot be impeded by the closure of these companies,” said Damian Collins MP.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that the closure of these companies is not used as an excuse to try and limit or restrict the ability of the authorities to investigate what they were doing.”
Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix was suspended in March after secretly being recorded by Channel 4 News.
In the video he suggested that the London-based firm had helped run Donald Trump’s digital election campaign. He also detailed ways that it could discredit other politicians, including sending “girls around to the candidate’s house”.
Cambridge Analytica subsequently said that it had only licensed 30 million records belonging to US citizens from the data-collecting app’s creator Dr Aleksandr Kogan, and that they had not been used it in the US Presidential Election.
The firm added that it had since deleted all the information despite claims to the contrary by others.
Earlier in the day, a cyber-security specialist had presented evidence to the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
He added that “beyond a shadow of a doubt” AggregateIQ had been involved in “some form of collaboration or co-ordination” between various pro-Brexit groups during the UK’s EU referendum campaign.
AIQ denies ever being part of Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL or accessing improperly obtained Facebook data.
And representatives from Vote Leave and Leave.EU have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
But the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office are conducting their own investigations into the Canadian firm’s operations.
The ICO has also issued a statement about Cambridge Analytica’s closure.
“The ICO will continue its civil and criminal investigations and will seek to pursue individuals and directors as appropriate and necessary even where companies may no longer be operating,” it said.
“We will also monitor closely any successor companies using our powers to audit and inspect, to ensure the public is safeguarded.”
How the scandal unfolded
17 March: The Observer and the New York Times publish accounts by Cambridge Analytica’s ex-employee Christopher Wylie, saying 50 million Facebook accounts were improperly harvested by the company
23 March: The UK’s data watchdog is granted a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s office
27 March: Christopher Wylie appears in front of a committee of UK MPs
4 April: Facebook says it now believes up to 87 million people’s data was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica
10 April: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is questioned by US lawmakers about the scandal
17 April: Alexander Nix, the former boss of Cambridge Analytica, refuses to appear before British MPs
26 April: The UK parliamentary committee threatens to issue Mark Zuckerberg with a “formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK” as questions remain unanswered
2 May: Cambridge Analytica announces its closure