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Cambridge Analytica used Disappearing Emails on Trump Campaign

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CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix
CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at a conference in 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Top executives of the under-fire data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica were recorded boasting of having played a pivotal role in Donald Trump’s election campaign. The executives of the firm which has made recent headlines after it was exposed by a whistleblower claimed to have not only collected crucial data but also to have informed all the campaign’s strategy through their data.

Cambridge Analytica CEO Suspended

The firm has faced heavy criticism from many after an investigation that was aired on British broadcaster; Channel 4 revealed just how far the data firm went to ensure its candidates won their elections. The board of Cambridge Analytica suspended the CEO, Alexander Nix, who was recorded boasting of the firm’s involvement in the US elections in 2016. In a statement released by the firm, the board distanced itself from recent comments made by the CEO and referred to them as not reflective of the firm’s values. The comments do not represent the firm’s operations, the statement said and the firm hoped that his suspension would affirm the firm’s deep adherence to professional ethics. The board appointed Alexander Tayler to hold the position in an interim position as the conduct and comments of the former CEO were thoroughly reviewed.

Heavy Election Involvement and Disappearing Emails

Speaking to an undercover Channel 4 reporter, Nix boasted of the firm’s deep involvement in the 2016 US presidential election and how data collected by the firm was used to inform strategy. Nix said that Cambridge had collected all the data, conducted all the research, and done all the analytics and the targeting. Cambridge had also run the media and digital campaign for the candidate, with the data being used to primarily inform the campaign’s strategy, the embattled CEO further revealed to the reporter.

Nix went on to reveal how the firm used disappearing emails sent from self-destructive email servers. The emails would be sent to the targeted audience and two hours after they had been read, they would disappear. This left no trace of the firm’s involvement in the affair as there was no paper trail that could point to Cambridge.

The firm had been hired by the Trump campaign to assist with voter outreach. Its involvement with the Trump campaign runs deep as it was originally funded by staunch Trump supporter, Robert Mercer and the former Trump campaign manager, Steve Bannon used to sit on the Cambridge board.

Channel 4 Reporter Baited Executives

Cambridge’s executives were baited by the undercover Channel 4 reporter who posed as a fixer and went on to reveal secrets that have implicated other firms, chief among them being the social media company, Facebook. The reporter posed as a fixer to a wealthy client in Sri Lanka who needed the firm’s assistance to get his candidates elected to various positions in the Sri Lankan elections.

It was not the first time Cambridge had come under the spotlight for questionable ethics in data collection. The New York Times and The Washington Post had already reported that the company had illegally acquired information from 50 million American Facebook profiles in the run-up to the elections. The company then went on to use this information to target voters and send them personalized messages based on their personal preferences and political leanings to saw the votes for their candidates.

Nix was also recorded boasting of how he had been able to mislead the members of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee last year after he had been invited to make a statement regarding Russia’s involvement in the elections. Politicians ask very basic questions and don’t understand the technical aspects, he said.

In the long list of unethical efforts the firm has undertaken, Nix talked about how in some instances, the firm had used prostitutes and spies to gather information about candidates which it would then use to influence elections.

Facebook on the spotlight

While Cambridge has been the primary target of the report, it has also brought into the limelight the privacy concerns many have raised over the years with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO has come forward saying his firm made mistakes in its handling of user data and that moving forward, it would take various measures that it hopes will restore its users’ confidence.
Many politicians have come forward criticizing Facebook from both Europe and the United States. Facebook officials are set to address the members of U.S. House Judiciary Committee regarding the issue.