Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that was reported to have improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million Facebook users, is shutting down.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that both Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group were shutting down, citing SCL Group founder Nigel Oakes. However, a press release issued by Cambridge Analytica states that only Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, another affiliate of SCL Group, are shutting down.
According to Gizmodo, SCL Group chairman Julian Wheatland broke the news to employees during a conference call, saying that efforts to pivot or rebrand the company would prove “futile.”
The press release issued by Cambridge Analytica stated that “over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations,” adding that “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, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the Company into administration.”
Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from the platform in mid-March, hours before British newspaper The Guardian published a report from a whistleblower detailing how Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained Facebook user data. A researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality app in 2014 called thisisyourdigitallife, which paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a personality quiz, in exchange for some of their Facebook data. At the time, the app also gave Kogan access to some data from the friends of the users who took that quiz. The app was created before Facebook changed its policies on the amount of data app developers could collect.
Kogan then gave that data to Cambridge Analytica, violating Facebook’s policies. Facebook sent a letter to Cambridge Analytica telling them to destroy the data in August 2016, but didn’t follow up to ensure that the firm did so. The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica then used that data to create “psychological profiles” of U.S. voters for ad targeting. Cambridge Analytica was employed by Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) campaign during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and then by President Donald Trump once Cruz ended his bid.
The instance became the poster child for Facebook’s failure to properly protect user data, and prompted Congress to call Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in front of various committees.
Following the incident, Twitter also suspended Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform.
Updated at 3:58 p.m. to acknowledge conflicting news reports about whether or not SCL Group is shutting down in addition to Cambridge Analytica.
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