Cambridge Analytica shuts down operations

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix

Cambridge Analytica, the firm accused of improperly obtaining personal information on behalf of political clients is shutting down its operations in London.

The political consultancy at the centre of the Facebook data-sharing scandal says siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.

According to Facebook, data about up to 87 million of its members was harvested by a quiz 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.

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“We are continuing with our investigation in cooperation with the relevant authorities.”

What are the accusations against Cambridge Analytica?

The company has been accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.

Going to second floor? Cambridge Analytica’s name has been taken down from the wall of its London office

In March, Channel 4 aired undercover footage of Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, giving examples of how the firm could swing elections around the world with underhand tactics such as smear campaigns and honey traps.

The UK-based company, which denies any wrongdoing, has an extensive record of working abroad on many election campaigns, including in Italy, Kenya and Nigeria.

Why does it say it is shutting?

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.”

The statement added that its parent company SCL Elections was also commencing bankruptcy proceedings.

What is the Brexit link?

Earlier on Wednesday, a cyber-security specialist presented evidence to the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Chris Vickery linked SCL and Cambridge Analytica to AggregateIQ – a Canadian data analytics firm, which Facebook has also suspended from using its platform.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg says it improperly shared data of 87 million users

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

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