Cambridge Analytica chief appears to have misled Parliament on data and Russia

Cambridge Analytica founder Alexander Nix may have misled members of a U.K. parliamentary inquiry over his company’s use of data gathered from millions of unsuspecting Facebook users and its contact with Russia, according to NBC News’ U.K. partner ITN Channel 4 News.

On Saturday, ITN Channel 4 News reported that Cambridge Analytica, a company that profiled voters for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, used private information taken from more than 50 million Facebook profiles to influence voters and help Steve Bannon wage a “culture war.” Bannon served as chief executive of the Trump campaign.


Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix speaks during the Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal on Nov. 9, 2017. Pedro Nunes / Reuters file

According to Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie, Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan operated a company known as Global Science Research (GSR), which obtained Facebook data via an application that paid users to take a survey. If the individual did not adjust their privacy settings, the app captured the user’s profile information as well as their friends and contacts’ data.

Wiley helped found the company and served as their director of research until 2014.

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Related: Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of unsuspecting Facebook users

Nix, whose company is currently the focus of a probe into data and politics by the British Information Commissioner’s Office, told a U.K. parliament inquiry on fake news on Feb. 27 that his company had a relationship with Global Science Research in 2014. He claimed at the time, however, that Cambridge Analytica did not use the data because it “proved to be fruitless.”

ITN Channel 4 News obtained an email that Nix sent to Kogan that appears to contradict that claim.

“…Really pleased that despite the challenges and hiccups along the way we were able to forge ahead with the [Facebook] harvesting and modelling and we are working with the data in many different ways now,” the email said. “I think we can all be proud of the work completed thus far, and we are getting very positive feedback from clients.”

Nix also told Parliament that his company had “never worked in Russia as far as I’m aware.” He denied having ever knowingly worked with a Russian company or Russian organization.

“We don’t have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals,” he said at the time.

A Cambridge Analytica document shown to ITN Channel 4 News also appears to contradict his statement. On the document, SCL Global Clients — the parent company of Cambridge Analytica — highlights Russia on its client map.

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NBC News’ U.K. partner was shown a slide presentation on electoral tactics that was allegedly shared with Lukoil, a Russian energy company.

Cambridge Analytica maintained that they had no contact with Russians as recently as two days ago after ITN Channel 4 News inquired, and the data company also denied on Sunday that Nix had misled Parliament.

Kogan, meanwhile, said he had the right to use the data for commercial purposes and did nothing wrong, according to ITN Channel 4 News.

Related: Trump Campaign Pays Millions to Overseas Big Data Firm

Wylie said that Kogan did not earn any money from sharing the data with Cambridge Analytica.

MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee in parliament, responded to the new allegations against Nix on Sunday.

“It seems clear that [Nix] has deliberately mislead the Committee and Parliament by giving false statements, Collins said. “We will be contacting Alexander Nix next week asking him to explain his comments, and answer further questions relating to the links between GSR and Cambridge Analytica, and its associate companies.”

The new information reported on Saturday by ITN Channel 4 News, the New York Times and the Observer of London also drew a response in the United States, where Cambridge Analytica’s data was used by the Trump campaign during the 2016 election — though the company claims none of the information used came from GSR’s Facebook harvesting.

“This raises serious questions about the level of detail that Cambridge Analytica knew about users, whether it acquired that information illegally and whether it sought to abuse that information in support of President Trump’s political campaign in the United States or Brexit in the United Kingdom,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie from using the social media service.

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