Cambridge Analytica to close in wake of Facebook privacy row

UK firm that worked with Trump campaign lost clients after claims it misused data

Cambridge Analytica is closing its doors weeks after the data analytics firm that worked with the Trump campaign was hit by revelations it benefited from a massive leak of Facebook data.

The UK-based company lost many of its largest clients after it became mired in allegations it misused the Facebook data in political campaigns. The firm’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, has already departed in an effort to contain the crisis.

The company, whose parent SCL will also shut down, said on Wednesday it had 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 decided to close because of a “media siege”, it added.

The announcement comes only a week after Cambridge Analytica launched a website to explain the “facts behind the Facebook story” and said it had been unfairly portrayed as a “Bond villain”.

The company, which has worked for high-profile political campaigns including Donald Trump’s pursuit of the US presidency, includes among its owners hedge fund billionaire and donor Robert Mercer, who along with his daughter Rebekah was a supporter of Mr Trump and has funded populist activists on the right.

Former employees said the company could reinvent itself under a different name. “Cambridge Analytica as a brand is absolutely toxic,” said one person who worked at the company, on condition of anonymity. “Although, guaranteed, that company SCL will emerge in some other incarnation or guise.”

The company's demise was triggered by Christopher Wylie, a former employee turned whistleblower, who told the Observer and the New York Times in March that the company had bought the data of millions of Facebook users without their permission.

It acquired the data from Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge university professor, who harvested it using a survey app. Mr Kogan claims he had permission to sell the data, but Facebook said the practice was a violation of its terms and conditions.

Cambridge Analytica said it bought the data of 30 million users, but Facebook has said up to 87million users may have been affected.

The UK’s information commissioner has been trawling through Cambridge Analytica’s servers as part of an investigation into whether the analytics firm broke data-protection laws with its use of Facebook data.

The company could have faced fines of up to £500,000 for breaching the UK rules. The UK information commissioner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cambridge Analytica said it had destroyed the data in 2015 when Facebook asked the company to delete it. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018