Dear Commons Community,
Cambridge Analytica announced yesterday that it would cease most of its operations and file for bankruptcy amid growing legal and political scrutiny of its business practices and work for Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. As reported by the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times:
“The decision [to file for bankruptcy] was made less than two months after Cambridge Analytica and Facebook became embroiled in a data-harvesting scandal that compromised the personal information of up to 87 million people. Revelations about the misuse of data, published in March by The New York Times and The Observer of London, plunged Facebook into crisis and prompted regulators and lawmakers to open investigations into Cambridge Analytica.
In a statement posted to its website, Cambridge Analytica said the controversy had driven away virtually all of the company’s customers, forcing it to file for bankruptcy in both the United States and Britain. The elections division of Cambridge’s British affiliate, SCL Group, will also shut down, the company said.
But the company’s announcement left several questions unanswered, including who would retain the company’s intellectual property — the so-called psychographic voter profiles built in part with data from Facebook — and whether Cambridge Analytica’s data-mining business would return under new auspices.
“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,” the company’s statement said.
Cambridge Analytica also said the results of an independent investigation it had commissioned, which it released on Wednesday, contradicted assertions made by former employees and contractors about its acquisition of Facebook data. The report played down the role of a contractor turned whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie
The company, bankrolled by Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor who invested at least $15 million, offered tools that it claimed could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. Those modeling techniques underpinned Cambridge Analytica’s work for the Trump campaign and for other candidates in 2014 and 2016.
But Cambridge Analytica came under scrutiny over the past year, first for its purported methods of profiling voters and then over allegations that it improperly harvested private data from Facebook users. Last year, the company was drawn into the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The company was also forced to suspend its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after a British television channel released an undercover video. In it, Mr. Nix suggested that the company had used seduction and bribery to entrap politicians and influence foreign elections.
The controversy dealt a major blow to Cambridge Analytica’s ambitions of expanding its commercial business in the United States, while also bringing unwanted attention to the American government contracts sought by SCL Group, an intelligence contractor.
Besides working for the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica was previously hired by a political action committee founded by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser. It had also worked for the 2016 presidential campaigns of Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz.”
In recent months, executives at Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group, along with the Mercer family, have moved to create a new firm, Emerdata, based in Britain, according to British records. The new company’s directors include Johnson Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and business partner of Erik Prince. Mr. Prince founded the private security firm Blackwater, which was renamed Xe Services after Blackwater contractors were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians.
Good riddance to this sleazy operation.