Cambridge Analytica says it's 'no Bond villain'

Dr Aleksandr Kogan's GSR data was virtually useless, said Cambridge Analytica.
Dr Aleksandr Kogan's GSR data was virtually useless, said Cambridge Analytica.

LONDON • Cambridge Analytica said it was "no Bond villain", as it vehemently denied exploiting Facebook users' data for the election campaign of US President Donald Trump.

The marketing analytics firm stressed that it had deleted data about Facebook users obtained in breach of the social network's terms of service.

The information had been gathered via a personality prediction app developed by academic Aleksandr Kogan's research firm, Global Science Research (GSR).

Cambridge Analytica insisted it did not use the data during Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and did not support the pro-Brexit side in Britain's referendum on its European Union membership that year.

Spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the firm had been portrayed like the enemy in a James Bond film. "Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain. While no laws were broken, we have acknowledged where mistakes have been made."

Mr Mitchell called a press conference in London "to counter some of the unfounded allegations and, frankly, the torrent of ill-informed and inaccurate speculation".

Cambridge Analytica suspended chief executive Alexander Nix on March 20 after recordings emerged of him boasting that the firm played an expansive role in the Trump campaign, doing all of its research and analytics, as well as digital and television campaigns.

In undercover footage captured by Britain's Channel 4 television, he is also seen boasting about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.

Speaking of Mr Nix, Mr Mitchell said: "At worst, he's guilty of over-zealous salesmanship in an attempt to apparently win a contract. Staff that saw that were horrified and did not recognise the Cambridge Analytica they worked for."

He said the data the firm acquired from GSR was for up to 30 million respondents in the United States only, irrespective of how many GSR was able to get information on.

The data that Dr Kogan managed to collect through the app was tested in 2014 and 2015, before Facebook complained about it, and was "shown to be virtually useless in that it was only just above random guessing, in statistical terms", said Mr Mitchell.

"Cambridge Analytica did not use the data further. The firm did work for Donald Trump for five months," he said. "Any suggestion that the GSR Kogan data was used in that campaign is utterly incorrect. Its effective uselessness had already been identified by then."

Mr Mitchell said Cambridge Analytica was extremely sorry it ended up in the possession of data that breached Facebook's terms of service.

Dr Kogan, who teaches at Cambridge University, told a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday that criticism of his work by Facebook showed that the US social media giant was in "PR crisis mode".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Cambridge Analytica says it's 'no Bond villain''. Print Edition | Subscribe