Brazil prosecutors open investigation into Cambridge Analytica

A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London on March 21, 2018.
A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London on March 21, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Brazilian prosecutors on Wednesday (March 21) said they had opened an investigation into whether London-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica acted illegally in Brazil, as controversy over the firm's data harvesting practices spreads across the globe.

Prosecutors for Brazil's Federal District, which includes Brasilia, the capital, said in a written statement that they will look into whether the firm, through its partnership with Sao Paulo-based consulting group A Ponte Estratégia Planejamento e Pesquisa LTDA, illegally used the data of millions of Brazilians to create psychographic profiles.

Calls by Reuters to CA Ponte, as the partnership is called, were not answered.

Prosecutors from a specialised data unit will look into whether there were security breaches that allowed the firm to illegally access personal data.

Regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Europe have demanded an explanation how the consulting firm, which worked on US President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users to build voter profiles.

Reports on Monday said that the firm might have improperly gained access to the data, and Cambridge Analytica has since suspended its chief executive Alexander Nix, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company made mistakes in its handling of user data.

By many measures, Brazil is Facebook's third largest market.

Bloomberg reported that Ponte Estrategia has asked to suspend its agreement with Cambridge Analytica less than seven months before the South American nation goes to the polls.

Andre Torretta, the head of the Brazilian firm, emailed Cambridge Analytica with the request after reports that data from 50 million Facebook users were allegedly harvested without permission by the company. Torretta said by phone he hasn't heard back yet.

"Were it some other circumstance, they would have called, given me an explanation," Torretta said. "Their lack of response is not pleasing."

Latin America's largest democracy will vote for a new president in October at a moment in which its citizens are deeply divided. Brazil's polarisation has some similarities with that of the United States during the 2016 campaign.

CA Ponte doesn't expect the scandal to hold back its progress, Torretta said. It has closed deals with three gubernatorial hopefuls already, and remains in talks with potential presidential candidates.

"For me it won't change anything, in spite of all this confusion," Torretta said.