U.K. investigators search Cambridge Analytica’s office

Investigators arrive at Cambridge Analytica’s office on Friday.   | Photo Credit: AP

British regulators finished searching the offices of Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of a Facebook data scandal, before dawn on Saturday and said they would examine the evidence before considering “next steps”.

After receiving a warrant from a judge, about 18 enforcement agents from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) entered the company’s London offices at around 8.00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Friday.

The officials, who were let into the building by security guards, were seen checking books and papers through the windows of the second-floor offices on London’s busy New Oxford Street, a witness said.

Elizabeth Denham, head of the ICO, sought the warrant.

“Our investigators left the premises at about 03.00 a.m.,” a spokesman for the data watchdog said on Saturday. “We will now need to assess and consider the evidence before deciding the next steps and coming to any conclusions.

“This is one part of a larger investigation by the ICO into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors.”

Illegal data mining

Cambridge Analytica, which worked on U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign, has been accused of illegally mining tens of millions of users’ Facebook data and using it to target potential voters. The row has sparked a major crisis for Facebook, prompting investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and sending its share price plunging amid fears of additional regulation that could affect its business model.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has issued a public apology, admitting there had been a “major breach of trust”.

Cambridge Analytica received data harvested in an app developed by an independent University of Cambridge academic, which was downloaded by around 2,70,000 people but scooped up information on up to 50 million people.

It denies the data was used in the Trump campaign, and Facebook says it was used without its knowledge. U.S. lawmakers on Friday asked Mr. Zuckerberg to come to Congress to explain to explain how the data got into Cambridge Analytica’s hands, adding to pressure on the firm.

The scandal over the way Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information to try to manipulate U.S. voters “is the most important moment that Facebook has faced since it went public (in 2012)”, according to Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University, one of the world’s leading authorities on social media psychology.

Role in Leave campaign?

Questions are also being raised about Cambridge Analytica’s role in Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016. It denies working on the campaign, but a former employee says it conducted data research for a key player,

On Friday, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said a former Cambridge Analytica political consultant had accused the company’s management of misleading the British public about work it did for a pro-Brexit group before the vote to leave the European Union.

Brittany Kaiser, a business development director at the company from 2014 until earlier this year, told The Guardian that Cambridge Analytica carried out data-crunching and analysis work for Leave.EU, while publicly denying it was doing so.

Arron Banks, a major donor to Leave.EU, told the newspaper that Leave.EU did not receive any data or work from Cambridge Analytica although the U.K. Independence Party, which also campaigned for Brexit, gave the firm some of its data which the firm analysed.

“But it was not used in the Brexit campaign. Cambridge Analytica tried to make me pay for that work but I refused. It had nothing to do with us,” Mr. Banks was quoted as saying.

Delayed by 24 hours

Efforts by the ICO to investigate Cambridge Analytica had hit a snag on Thursday after a judge adjourned its application to search the British consultancy group’s office by 24 hours.

U.S. and European lawmakers have demanded an explanation of how the British consulting firm gained access to the data in 2014 and why Facebook failed to inform its users, raising broader industry questions about consumer privacy.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 9:28:53 AM |

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