Cambridge Analytica is no more. The firm at the centre of the Facebook data scandal that saw Mark Zuckerberg gently prodded by Congress announced it is shutting up shop for good.
This isn’t, the firm was keen to stress, any admission of wrongdoing. In fact, the company put out a rather bullish statement arguing that it only engaged in standard campaigning practices – which may very well be true, but doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence at the resilience of democracy in a digital age.
“Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the company’s efforts to correct the record, has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas,” the company wrote.
“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully… 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.”
Its parent company SCL Elections is also apparently entering into bankruptcy proceedings.
Facebook, for its part is not giving up the chase. “This doesn’t change our commitment and determination to understand exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” a spokesperson said. “We are continuing with our investigation in cooperation with the relevant authorities.”
Gone in all but name?
Amusingly, if you do a Google search for Cambridge Analytica, alongside a bunch of news stories, you get user-generated reviews of the company averaging a 1.6/5 star rating.
Funny as these reviews are, they point to a wider problem. When Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica, very few people had heard of the company – and that’s as you’d expect. Political campaigning outfits are designed to exist only behind the scenes: to be heard, but not seen. If they’re known by name to the public at large, then that’s almost certainly for the wrong reasons, and so it has come to pass with Cambridge Analytica.
Even taking the company at its word that it acted within the law, in an age where trust in elected officials is at an all-time low, it would take a very brave election campaign to enlist its services.
But seeing as it’s likely 99.9% of people had never heard of Cambridge Analytica before the scandal unfolded, and almost none of those who now have could name any other political consultancy, could the company rebrand?
Wylie, for his part, suggests this to be highly likely:
And sure enough, a company with a remarkably similar set of faces has already been spotted. On the Companies House website, there’s a business called Emerdata Limited which lists its HQ as the same offices as SCL Elections and hired Alexander Taylor as a director on 28 March 2018. Taylor was previously acting CEO of Cambridge Analytica. He replaced Alexander Nix at Emerdata, who resigned the same day. You may remember Nix: he was the man suspended from Cambridge Analytica after Channel 4 secretly recording him making some dubious boasts about the company’s work.
Elsewhere, Julian Wheatland is listed as another Emerdata director – something he has experience of from his day job of being on the SCL board. Joining him on the Emerdata board are Jennifer and Rebekah Mercer, daughters of Robert Mercer, who created and funded Cambridge Analytica.
And what does Emerdata Limited do? Companies House lists it as a “data processing, hosting and related activities” business, which is vague, but the same kind of vague description as could legally describe an outfit like Cambridge Analytica.