Alexander Nix: 'A Champion' with no Facebook profile

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix now finds himself at the centre of a data mining scandal that has ensnared social media giant Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix now finds himself at the centre of a data mining scandal that has ensnared social media giant Facebook.PHOTO: REUTERS

"A Champion". "A highly aspirational problem-solver interested in unique and creative ideas".

"He is resilient, tenacious and able to cope well with setbacks, although he sometimes exerts negative behaviour in reaction to conflict."

This is the OCEAN score of Mr Alexander Nix, based on a free personality test his company had Facebook users take. The OCEAN scale refers to a measure psychologists use to determine someone's Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

His company Cambridge Analytica would collect the data to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans. The information is then used for what Mr Nix calls "behavioural microtargeting" - basically individualised advertising.

The 42-year-old impeccably-dressed CEO of Cambridge Analytica now finds himself at the centre of a data mining scandal that has ensnared social media giant Facebook.

According to a joint probe by The New York Times and Britain's Observer, Cambridge Analytica was able to create psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users through the use of a personality prediction app that was downloaded by 270,000 people, but also scooped up data from friends.

The data was harvested by an application developed by a British academic, Aleksandr Kogan, the newspapers said. Some 270,000 people downloaded the application and logged in with their Facebook credentials, according to Facebook.

The application gathered their data and data about their friends, and then Kogan passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, according to both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica said on Saturday that it did not initially know Kogan violated Facebook's terms, and that it deleted the data once it found out in 2015. Kogan could not be reached for comment.

Mr Nix finds himself in the spotlight even more, after Channel 4 in London on Monday (March 19) released secretly-filmed videos showing him talking about underhanded methods that Cambridge Analytica may use during campaigns.

A spokesman for the company said "we refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called 'honey-traps' for any purpose whatsoever".

Mr Nix grew up in London's Notting Hill, and went to school at the ultra-exclusive Eton, where boys wear black tailcoats and white Eton collars to class.

At Manchester University, he studied the history of art.

He began working as a financial analyst with Baring Securities in Mexico.

Then he moved on to Robert Fraser & Partners LLP, a finance and tax advisory firm in the U.K. In 2003, he became director of the SCL Group, focusing on behavioural products and services.

In 2007, he began focusing on elections and opened offices in Washington D.C. and Delhi, expanding his global staff to more than 300 employees, according to New York-based Heavy.com website.

Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2013 by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor who put has put at least US$15 million into Cambridge Analytica.

Three years later, Mr Nix was named one of "25 Geniuses Who Are Creating the Future of Business" by Wired Magazine.

He further gained prominence after Mr Donald Trump won the White House in late 2016, in part with the firm's help. He went to more clients to pitch his services, the New York Times reported last year.

Huffington Post described him "a showy salesman" who is in his element on stage making presentations at large conferences.

Surprisingly, Mr Nix comes across as someone who is fiercely protective of his privacy, according to past media interviews.

It is perhaps no surprise that he has no Facebook profile.

Married with with three young children, he is said to enjoy playing polo. He has the fine, firm hands of an equestrian, wrote Sydney Morning Herald's senior writer Stephanie Wood who did an interview with him in April last year (2017).

"I'm quite a private person. I don't think it's necessarily in my best interests to share my life with other people. I'm sorry about that. But I'm just feeling uncomfortable about this. I don't think that I want to be the story," he said during the interview, which he recorded.

He told Ms Wood he has frequently been misquoted and he blames "shoddy journalism" for some of the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica, which opened a Sydney office last year.  The firm's website says it has offices in New York, Washington DC, London, Brazil and Malaysia.

Its parent company, London-based SCL, has said it has worked in 100 countries, including serving military clients with techniques in "soft power," or persuasion.

Mr Nix had described it as a modern-day upgrade of early efforts to win over a foreign population by dropping propaganda leaflets from the air.

He blasted The Guardian and the New York Times for their stories on how his firm was engaged in improper tactics to sway elections that included the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

"If you tell a lie often enough it becomes truth. But even after we came out and denied that again and again and again they just kept propagating the same message," he told TechCrunch in an interview in November 2017.

On the shock outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, he said:"The liberal press (characterised Cambridge Analytica) as “witchcraft, they treat it is “voodoo” and now it’s Russia’s fault! They just cannot accept the fact that Hillary was such an unpopular, such a divisive candidate. She failed to mobilise her base and people didn’t fundamentally trust her. Rather than looking in the mirror, they much prefer to beat up Cambridge (Analytica) beat up Trump, beat up anyone else."

This month (March 2018), he told a parliamentary inquiry into fake news and Russian interference in Britain's referendum to exit the European Union that Cambridge Analytica never used or possessed Facebook data.

But after the reports in The Times and Observer on Saturday (March 17), Mr Damian Collins, the Conservative lawmaker leading the inquiry, said he planned to call Nix back to testify.

"It seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and Parliament," Mr Collins said in a statement.