Cambridge Analytica: Then and Now

18/05/2018 News

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a barrage of information come to light about the now disgraced and shut down SCL Elections/Cambridge Analytica. As evidence of SCL/CA’s roles in misusing data to manipulate elections around the world has come to light, it’s been enlightening to see the way they talk about who they are and what they’ve done.

Now, Cambridge Analytica insists that they are a standard data analytics and market research company, using traditional tools to assist candidates and campaigns. But this has not always been the case.

The Fair Vote Project looked at captures of Cambridge Analytica’s website from 2016 as well as an article written by Alexander Nix himself in February 2016 and compared them to CA’s recent press releases and their webpage CambridgeFacts.com which attempted to “set the record straight” on what exactly CA did.

Connection between SCL and CA

We know that SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica are related entities but the exact relationship  is unclear. This is increasingly important as the authorities work out exactly how SCL and Cambridge Analytica may have misused Facebook data collected through Aleksandr Kogan’s GSR app or misused other data from other sources.

Then

2 February 2016: Alexander Nix claims SCL Group is what CA is known as in Europe, suggesting they are entirely the same entity. People who worked with them at the time, namely Aleksandr Kogan and Jeff Silvester, co-founder of AIQ, publicly claimed that they knew that CA and SCL were related but did not know exactly how.

Now

April 2018: Cambridge Analytica says SCL was the "precursor" to CA.
29 March 2018: CA claims SCL is an associated entity

These may seem like small quibbles. But it’s vital that we understand the connection between CA and SCL, as the companies could be hiding information about having access to and responsibility for intellectual property and data.

For example, Dr Kogan said in Parliament that he “never had a contract with Cambridge Analytica,”  only SCL Elections. However, CA’s information site CambridgeFacts.com now says that:

April 2018: Cambridge Analytica says they licensed data from Dr Kogan, even though Dr Kogan insists he never had contact with CA, only SCL.

Dr Kogan himself wasn’t clear on the distinction between SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica. With such unclear definitions of the boundaries between companies, it is uncertain which company is responsible for and in possession of data and information relating to people from the UK as well as people from all over the world.

With their recent bankruptcy filings, it’s clear that SCL and CA are inextricably linked. What does this mean for the intellectual property and data that may have been shared between the companies? What are they hiding?

CA’s Impact on Elections

Then

In February 2016, CA published the following on their website concerning their work for the Ted Cruz campaign in the primaries:

2 February 2016: CA promoting that the 2016 race is a battle between big data companies.

In Alexander Nix’s own article from the same time, he explicitly attributes Ted Cruz’s success (and Donald Trump’s failure) to data analytics:

2 February 2016: Nix attributing Cruz's success to his superior data analytics game. Cambridge Analytica worked for Trump in the general election.....and the rest is history.

CA’s own website from late 2016/early 2017 heavily promotes the importance of behavioural and psychological testing:

January 2017: CA publicised their claim that they had 5,000 data points per person far and wide after they helped Trump win the election. They've never been transparent about what exactly these 5,000 data points are or where they got this information.
January 2017: CA promoting behavioral microtargeting.

Now

In recent months, CA has majorly backtracked on the influence they had in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and what exactly they did to win:

29 March 2018: CA downplaying their impact in 2016 election.
10 April 2018: An early version of CA's PR site CambridgeFacts insists on the disappointment of the Facebook data CA got from Dr Kogan's GSR app. They also downplay the importance of market psychology, something they have been promoting as the future of marketing and campaigning for years.

Throughout the 2016 campaign and in 2017, CA emphasised their state of the art technology and use of behavioural and psychological targeting. But on CambridgeFacts, CA scales back, insisting they used the same tactics as Obama and Clinton.

April 2018: CA downplays their uses of advanced microtargeting, insisting they did not use "personalilty models" despite what they touted during and after the election.

CA and Leave.EU

CA has insisted multiple times that they did not do any work on the 2016 referendum. Leave.EU has also picked up this line in recent months. This is markedly different to what both organisations said in 2016 and 2017.

The sharp change in both organisations’ statements is suspicious. While Facebook and the Electoral Commission found no evidence of activity between the two but neither examination was exhaustive. Why won’t Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU own up to the work they did together?

With Leave.EU found to be in serious breach of electoral law, it’s vital we understand just what they did so it never happens again.

Then

2 February 2016: Nix saying CA was working with Leave.EU.
3 March 2017: Arron Banks confirming Leave.EU worked with Cambridge Analytica.

Now

April 2018: CA denying they did any work in EU referendum, a very different message from February 2016.
27 Feb 2018: Arron Banks begins backtracking on working with CA, saying Leave.EU declined CA's offer because it was illegal.

Cambridge Analytica has proven time and again to be dishonest and untrustworthy. With SCL and Cambridge Analytica shutting down and declaring bankruptcy, it’s more important than ever to understand the inner workings of the organisation.

As much as they are trying to backtrack now, we have seen the impact of their work. They have promoted their ability to target and change minds and behaviours. With this type of power and influence, we must ensure that we are properly protected against manipulative tactics.

The same people at the helm of SCL and CA have started a new company: Emerdata. What is going to stop them from doing it all over again?

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