Cambridge Analytica, a political advisory firm for the Trump campaign that’s accused of siphoning data from more than 50 million Facebook users, has suspended its CEO Alexander Nix with “immediate effect.”
The company, whose data-analytics and marketing tools could be used to identify people by personality type and influence their behavior, said Nix’s comments in an expose by Britain’s Channel 4 News, ‘and other allegations,’ did not represent the firm’s values and were the reason for his ousting.
“His suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the company’s board said in an official statement. “We have asked Dr. Alexander Tayler to serve as acting CEO while an independent investigation is launched to review those comments and allegations.”
Julian Malins, a British lawyer practicing international commercial and corporate law, will lead the investigation.
The report by Channel 4 News showed executives from Cambridge Analytica telling undercover reporters that they could entrap a rival politician by secretly filming them as they were seduced by an attractive woman.
The news report was broadcast on Monday, and followed a weekend of reports from The Observer and The New York Times.
The reports cite a former contractor for Cambridge Analytica, who said the company had amassed data on more than 50 million users of Facebook, which it used to build models for predicting and influencing voter behaviour.
The scandal has had a damaging knock-on effect for Facebook, already reeling from criticisms over its inability to limit the spread of fake news on its site, with the latest news sending Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth down by more than $5 billion.
The European Commission told Forbes on Monday that it was calling on data protection authorities to launch an investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing practices, while in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission has said it is also investigating Facebook’s data methods.
Observers and privacy advocates say that Cambridge Analytica was hardly unique in collecting Facebook user data en masse.
“Other firms are most certainly harvesting data in a similar manner in order to more accurately target their own marketing campaigns,” says Andy Patel, a cyber security researcher from F-Secure.
“Businesses won’t change the way they collect, store, or use Facebook data unless Facebook decides to introduce further limits on what information can be obtained via their API.”