Cambridge Analytica suspended CEO Alexander Nix on Tuesday. It’s the latest development in a complicated story involving the embattled data analytics firm, a self-described whistleblower and misused Facebook ( data. )
Here’s a guide to the company everyone’s been talking about.
What is it?
Cambridge Analytica was hired by Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.
The firm has been funded in part by Republican donor and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his family, and has ties to former and current Trump advisers. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is the firm’s former vice president, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway consulted for the company.
It is affiliated with the strategic communications firm SCL Group.
In its Twitter bio, Cambridge Analytica said it offers “behavioral microtargeting,” as well as “political campaign support” and “digital support.”
Why is Cambridge Analytica in the news?
The scandal erupted over the weekend when The New York Times and UK media reported that Cambridge Analytica tried to influence American voters using information gleaned from 50 million Facebook users.
Facebook says the data in question was initially gathered a few years ago properly by psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan.
At the time, Facebook allowed Kogan to harvest information from users who downloaded his app, which offered a personality test. Those Facebook users also gave Kogan permission to collect data from their friends.
Kogan passed that data on to SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica, which was working to develop techniques that could be used to influence voters.
Facebook said that the transfer of information from Kogan to Cambridge Analytica breached it’s rules. Cambridge Analytica maintains that it deleted all the data in 2015 when it learned that Facebook rules had been broken.
The company defended itself in a tweet storm over the weekend.
“Advertising is not coercive; people are smarter than that,” the company tweeted on Saturday. It added, “this isn’t a spy movie.”
It has continued to tweet about the scandal.
A former contractor, Christopher Wylie, disputes that Cambridge Analytica destroyed the user data. He is the self-described whistleblower who has shared his story with the press.
What’s the latest?
Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica and SCL, and asked Cambridge Analytica to agree to an audit in an attempt to show that the data in question was deleted.
Cambrige Analytica agreed, but the audit was called off by the UK’s main data protection agency, a Facebook spokesman told CNN.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has announced it is seeking a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation. Facebook will continue with its own probe.
Meanwhile, fallout for the company has continued.
Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix in the wake of undercover reports showing him discussing potential bribery and entrapment.
Nix’s suspension is immediate, “pending a full, independent investigation,” the firm said in a statement.
The statement was released moments before Channel 4 News in the UK was due to air another report in a series of exposes about the work of the company.
The report on Tuesday featured undercover footage of Nix claiming he met Trump “many times” and that the company was responsible for a wide swath of the Trump campaign’s activity.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting,” Nix said. “We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy.”
Alex Tayler, labeled as the chief data officer for Cambridge Analytica, is recorded separately as saying the firm’s analysis was responsible for Trump’s Electoral College performance.
“When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, but won the Electoral College, that’s down to the data and the research,” Tayler said. “That’s how he won the election.”
Nix denied in a statement that the company engages in entrapment or bribery.
Cambridge Analytica’s statement on Tuesday said an independent investigation would take place with the company revealing its findings “in due course.”
“Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the statement said.
— CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Paul Murphy, Aaron Kessler, Brian Stelter, Eli Watkins Carol Jordan and Mark Thompson contributed to this report.
CNNMoney (New York) First published March 20, 2018: 9:50 PM ET