Title Cambridge Analytica and the SCL Group - what we know so far
Publication Date 2018-03-25
Text Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of the Scl Group (a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Whistleblower ex-employee 28-year-old Chris Wylie revealed how the company had harvested and passed on personal Facebook data without account holders' permission. This data was then used to run targeted 'fake news' campaigns during the US presidential election.
Subsequent to Wylie's disclosures, a channel 4 documentary showed Cambridge Analytica bosses boasting about entrapping candidates, influencing election-outcomes, and creating fake news stories for the benefit of their clients.
ICO finally get a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica offices
After the Channel 4 programme was aired, the information officer, Elizabeth Denham, requested a warrant to search CA offices. On Monday night, staff from the security firm Stroz Friedberg, who was at CA offices on behalf of Facebook, were told to leave by the ICO. This was to prevent a Facebook CA audit from prejudicing the ICO investigation.
It took several hours in court over the course of several days, however, before the judge presiding over the case finally granted the search warrant. According to observers for The Register, both sides were trying to agree on the scope of the warrant, most importantly, whether the ICO would also get access to data relating to Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL Elections Ltd.
On Friday night, eighteen ICO enforcement officers entered the CA London office to carry out the 7-hour search, which was finally completed at 3 am on Saturday morning.
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The procurement and use of Facebook data by the app developer Dr Aleksander Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and by the SCL Group lies at the heart of the ICO investigation.
Concerns have arisen that personal data was passed on and used to influence the outcome of the American presidential election and the EU referendum.
Facebook under fire
Facebook shares have suffered a significant drop in value in light of these revelations. Responding to intense media pressure, Mark Zuckerberg finally made a statement on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Speaking to CNN, he apologised for his company's role in the scandal.
The spotlight falls on Vote Leave
While the initial outrage centred around CA's role in influencing the outcome of the US presidential election, recent days have seen many observers shifting the spotlight onto the prominent pro-Brexit campaign group Vote Leave. According to a Reuters report, both the head of CA and the head of Vote Leave had boasted about their collaboration during the Brexit referendum campaign.
Since then, both have withdrawn these claims, emphasising that no contract had been signed.
However, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni who was part of the BeLeave campaign team said:"I know... Vote Leave cheated."
Brexit campaign was ‘totally illegal’, Vote Leave whistleblower claims. #TheBrexitWhistleblower
WATCH THE FULL STORY: https://t.co/xFdLvol74R — Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 25, 2018
It is now up to the electoral commission to continue its investigations and determine whether these allegations are true.
CA, SCL, and Robert Mercer
During the last few days, commentators have also been investigating and highlighting the relationships and the people behind CA and its parent company SCL. The name Robert Mercer features prominently as he appears to be the main financier of Cambridge Analytica. The US hedge fund billionaire and Trump supporter is known to have financially supported the Trump Campaign. In the UK, CA's parent company SCL has several conservative donors among its directors and shareholders.
The Guardian reported that while the government maintains it now has no contacts with SCL, the company worked on two different projects for the Ministry of Defence.
Pressure on Facebook rather than politicians
Politicians across the globe have been pointing the finger at Facebook, denouncing its failure to protect user data. In contrast, politicians appear unwilling to examine the way political campaigns are run in the age of social media.