Infamous data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has shut down, leading to fears that it may be trying to hide evidence as investigators continue to probe its alleged role in the US presidential election and EU referendum.
Data on roughly 87 million Facebook users was harvested by a personality test app and then passed on to the firm, breaking the social network’s terms of service. It’s then claimed that Cambridge Analytica used the information to build psychological profiles of voters for its clients to target in the key votes.
The London-based consultancy has denied any wrongdoing, although its former CEO, Alexander Nix, was caught on camera last month explaining how the firm could swing elections around the world.
A statement detailing the commencement of insolvency proceedings claimed the media siege had driven away customers:
“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.”
Damian Collins, chair of the parliamentary select committee investigating the scandal, tweeted: “Cambridge Analytica and SCL group cannot be allowed to delete their data history by closing.”
Data protection watchdog the ICO said in a statement it will continue its civil and criminal investigations into the companies and “will seek to pursue individuals and directors as appropriate and necessary even where companies may no longer be operating.”
“We will also monitor closely any successor companies using our powers to audit and inspect, to ensure the public is safeguarded,” it added.
However, it’s efforts have been frustrated in the past when directors have sent their firms into liquidation, meaning fines couldn’t be recovered and the individual held to account.
Dan Goldstein, president of digital marketing firm Page 1 Solutions disagreed with the CA statement that its activities are legal and “widely accepted as a standard of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas.
“Based on the reporting, Cambridge Analytica extracted very private personal information from Facebook users without permission and used that private data to manipulate voters,” he argued.
“That is very different than using the advertising tools provided by Facebook in the way they are intended to be used. Facebook advertisers don’t have access to the private information that was used and manipulated by Cambridge Analytica.”