Cambridge Analytica has suspended its chief executive Alexander Nix over the data-harvesting scandal engulfing both the UK data firm and Facebook.
Reports have claimed the latter harvested data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without consent.
This week Channel 4 News aired a secret recording showing Nix claiming he ran President Donald Trump’s election campaign and also apparently discussing tactics his company could use to discredit politicians.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” he said.
“[We can also] send some girls around to the candidate’s house… [Ukrainian girls] are very beautiful – I find that works very well.
“I’m just giving you examples of what can be done and what has been done.”
A statement from Cambridge Analytica’s board of directors said Nix had been suspended with “immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation”.
It said the comments “do not represent the values or operations of the firm” but maintained that the overall Channel 4 report “grossly misrepresented” the conversations.
The firm’s chief data officer Dr Alexander Tayler – who was also filmed discussing Trump’s campaign strategy – will serve as acting CEO.
Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica and Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan over a breach of its policies, but denies a data breach.
Kogan developed a Facebook app which featured a personality quiz called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ and Cambridge Analytica paid people to take it.
As well as the quiz results and the user’s Facebook account data, however, it also collected the data of their Facebook friends as well – which is strictly against Facebook’s rules.
Facebook’s share price has been hit by the fiasco despite claiming the data was obtained legitimately. It said Cambridge Analytica failed to delete the data when subsequently ordered to do so, while the data firm claims it did delete it at that time.
Facebook is sending representatives to Washington today to answer questions before the US Congress and has issued a statement expressing its “outrage” at being “deceived” by Cambridge Analytica.
Kogan told the BBC that he has been made a “scapegoat” by the firms.
“The events of the past week have been a total shellshock,” he said. “My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when… we thought we were doing something that was really normal.
“We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service.”
A UK parliamentary committee has meanwhile called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence, while the UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she would be applying to court for a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica.
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) March 20, 2018
We ran a series of articles on Facebook’s use of data last year, from how it targets you with tagging and location to accessing your phone and emails, whether people know you’ve viewed their profile and making friend suggestions from Tinder and other apps.