Ministers are under pressure to act following claims that millions of voters private data was used to help sway the result of the Brexit referendum. The social media company Cambridge Analytica faces an investigation into its role in influencing elections worldwide, including the victory of Donald Trump in 2016.
The company, which offers services to businesses and political groups or parties who want to “change audience behaviour, is now the focus of Westminster and Brussels. Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit co-ordinator for the European Parliament, has called for a new investigation into claims that data could have been used by one of the Leave campaign groups to contact key groups of swing voters, potentially affecting the referendum result. He said the Brexit claims “should come as a significant warning for our democracy”.
The parliamentary Speaker John Bercow faces calls from MPs for time on the Commons floor for emergency questions while ministers are under pressure to make formal statements.
Cambridge Analytica, is at the centre of the Facebook data breach scandal in the United States, boasted of using honey-traps, fake news campaigns and operations with former spies. Executives spoke to undercover reporters from Channel 4 News about the practices used by the firm to help its clients. In one report, company chief executive Alexander Nix (pictured) is recorded saying: “It sounds dreadful but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they are believed.”
Nix confirmed the company is under pressure from politicians in the UK and US over its handling of data unauthorised by client contacts. It has promoted itself as the ultimate high-tech consultant. It collects data from a wide range of sources and translates it into “models” for use by clients. The company has “harvested” 50 million profiles having been set up in 2013 partly to “address the vacuum in the US Republican political market”.
Much of the harvesting of data has been assembled by UK academic Aleksandre Kogan and his company Global Science Research.
The information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has applied for a warrant to help her examine the firm’s activities.