Thursday 29 March 2018


Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was started in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group. The company is partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund manager who supports many politically conservative causes. The firm maintains offices in London, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Cambridge Analytica specializes in what’s called “psychographic” profiling, meaning they use data collected online to create personality profiles for voters. They then take that information and target individuals with specifically tailored content.

We know from the reporting of Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim at the New York Times that Jared Kushner, who was charged with overseeing Trump’s digital operations, is the reason Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign.

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that did digital work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and has close ties to Steve Bannon and GOP megadonor Robert Mercer, is in hot water after several recent reports have raised ethical and potentially legal questions about its business practices.

The New York Times and Observer reported that Cambridge obtained private Facebook data — specifically, information on tens of millions of Facebook profiles — from an outside researcher who provided it to them in violation of his own agreement with Facebook.

Before there was Cambridge Analytica, there was the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group — SCL Group, for short. Founded in 1993 by a British ad man named Nigel Oakes, it is, basically, a messaging and PR firm that’s done work for governments, politicians, and militaries around the world. Its clients included governments and politicians in Indonesia, Thailand, Kenya, the UK, and elsewhere.

SCL tends to describe its capabilities in grandiose and somewhat unsettling language — the company has touted its expertise at ”psychological warfare” and “influence operations.” It’s long claimed that its sophisticated understanding of human psychology helps it target and persuade people of its clients’ preferred message. Lately, its preferred buzzwords have focused on “big data” and “psychographic profiling.”

New information on the operations of embattled data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica suggests it had a controversial role in Nigeria’s presidential election in 2015.

A report by The Guardian says Cambridge Analytica, hired by an unnamed Nigerian billionaire to work on the re-election campaign of then-president Goodluck Jonathan, “was paid an estimated £2 million ($2.8 million) to orchestrate a ferocious campaign” against Muhammadu Buhari, the leading opposition candidate at the time. Buhari went on to secure a historic election win in 2015. Before that however, Cambridge Analytica reportedly attempted to furtively use hacked personal emails of Buhari which were provided by Israeli hackers.

Cambridge Analytica staff working on the Nigerian elections reportedly met the Israeli hackers in the firm’s London offices after which Alexander Nix, the recently suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO, allegedly asked staff to search the hacked emails for damaging information to be used against Buhari. But, as The Guardian reports, “alarmed” staff members refused to do so believing that the data was possibly obtained illegally. For its part, SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, confirms it was hired “to provide advertising and marketing services” for the Jonathan campaign but denied receiving or using hacked information during the campaign.

In the build-up to the elections, the Jonathan campaign notably focused on social media and public messaging questioning Buhari’s educational qualifications and also, contentiously, his health status, setting off intense rumors and speculation.

The hacked mails are believed to have contained or referenced Buhari’s medical records. Those rumors apparently had an element of truth as Buhari spent over 150 days on medical leave in the UK last year treating an undisclosed illness.

Elsewehere in Africa, Cambridge Analytica has confirmed working on Kenya’s elections in 2013 and 2017. In a sting operation by UK’s Channel 4 News, Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, says the company managed “every element” of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns. Kenya’s 2017 elections were notably characterized by fake news and attacking commentary on opposition candidates mainly through Facebook and Whatsapp.


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