Embattled psychographics firm Cambridge Analytica and its affiliated company SCL Elections announced on 2 May 2018 they will file for insolvency following scandal over its misuse of millions of Facebook users’ data in relation to consequential elections.
Some of the firm’s key officials have migrated to a new company, Emerdata, even as questions remain about where that data might be. According to business filings in the UK, Cambridge Analytica funder Rebekah Mercer and her sister Jennifer are listed as Emerdata directors, as are former acting chief executive officers Alexander Tayler and Julian Wheatland.
Former CEO Alexander Nix was also listed as an Emerdata director, but resigned. Nix was suspended by Cambridge Analytica’s board after Britain’s Channel 4 published an undercover camera investigation in which he was caught discussing dirty election tricks like using sex workers to seduce and then blackmail candidates.
New York-based investigative journalist Wendy Siegelman, who first reported on of Emerdata, told us that some have expressed concern that closing some of the company’s operations could be an attempt to hinder access to data by investigators:
Investigators in the UK, US, and other countries are still trying to figure out where facebook data was used, including in the 2016 election, and without a review of SCL/CA’s computers, hard drives, databases, documents, etc, it’s not yet clear what they actually did historically.
British MP Damian Collins published such a concern on Twitter:
Cambridge Analytica and SCL group cannot be allowed to delete their data history by closing. The investigations into their work are vital
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) May 2, 2018
The closure of the firms came after a series of scathing investigative reports revealed how profiles of 87 million Facebook users were improperly acquired by the firm from researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who designed a personality quiz that not only lifted data from those who downloaded it but from their friends as well.
According to Facebook, Kogan told them that the information gathered from the app would be used for academic purposes, but it was instead given to Cambridge Analytica — in violation of platform policy. Company whistleblower Christopher Wylie told British lawmakers the data was likely used to manipulate elections, including the UK’s Brexit referendum and the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. The scandal is now subject to investigations in both countries.
Cambridge Analytica has denied wrongdoing, blaming the media for their closure. The company says it was forced to close because negative news reports caused them to lose business, saying “the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers.”
United States Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading a team investigating interference in the 2016 elections, has contacted Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Wylie in relation to the ongoing probe. The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office is also conducting both criminal and civil investigations into the firm as well.