The suspended chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of Facebook data harvesting claims, has been recalled before a parliamentary select committee over alleged “inconsistencies” in the evidence he gave MPs.
In a letter asking Alexander Nix to reappear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chairman Damian Collins asked the 42-year-old to explain why he told MPs on 27 February that Cambridge Analytica does not work with Facebook data.
Mr Collins said Mr Nix had also denied receiving data from the company Global Science Research (GSR).
In his letter, Mr Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, told Mr Nix: “Following material published over the past few days, the committee would like to request that you supply further evidence.
“There are a number of inconsistencies in your evidence to us on 27 February, notably your denial that your company received data from the Global Science Research company.
“We are also interested in asking you again about your claim that you ‘do not work with Facebook data, and […] we do not have Facebook data’.”
The letter adds: “Giving false statements to a select committee is a very serious matter. We urge you to come forward and explain your comments at a committee hearing”.
The Cambridge Analytica board this week suspended its chief executive pending what it called “a full independent investigation”.
Cambridge Analytica confirmed in a statement on 17 March that in 2014 it had contracted GSR and the research company had given it Facebook data.
The statement said: “GSR was contractually obliged by us to only obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent.”
The statement added: “When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR.
“We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted.”
Facebook, however, has cast doubt on the company’s claim that all the data really was deleted.
It suspended Cambridge Analytica’s account, citing “reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted”.
Dr Aleksandr Kogan of GSR has defended his company’s actions, suggesting it has been “used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, when we thought we were doing everything appropriately”.
The developments come as Cambridge Analytica’s London office was evacuated after the delivery of what was initially feared to have been a suspect package.
After police were called and assessed the package on Thursday afternoon, however, it was deemed to contain nothing untoward.
At about the same time, the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, who is investigating the data controversy, experienced a delay in getting an urgent warrant to enter Cambridge Analytica’s London offices.
Ms Denham had begun the warrant application process on Tuesday, but on Thursday her office (the ICO) issued a statement saying: “A High Court judge has adjourned the ICO’s application for a warrant relating to Cambridge Analytica until Friday.
“The ICO will be in court to continue to pursue the warrant to obtain access to data and information to take forward our investigation.”
On Tuesday, the day the ICO started applying for a warrant, Cambridge Analytica had issued a statement saying: “Cambridge Analytica has been in touch with the ICO since February 2017, when we hosted its team in our London office to provide total transparency on all the data we hold.
“We have been fully compliant and proactive in our conversations with the ICO.”
Insisting that Cambridge Analytica remained committed to helping the ICO, the company statement added: “We have offered to share with the ICO all the information that it asked for and for the ICO to attend our office voluntarily, subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection.”
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is conducting an inquiry into fake news.
Cambridge Analytica, whose former vice-president was Steve Bannon, ex-chief strategist to Donald Trump and the co-founder of “alt-right” news website Breitbart, has insisted that no GSR or Facebook data was used in its assistance to the 2016 presidential campaign.
After Mr Trump’s election victory, Cambridge Analytica announced itself as “The Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result”, while Mr Nix was quoted as telling reporters that with the help of his company, “pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven”.
“We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals,” Mr Nix was quoted as saying.
When he appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 27 February, Mr Nix said Cambridge Analytica did not have special powers and was just a “small technology company”.
He told MPs: “That’s very flattering that you might suggest people might see us as having these incredible powers, [but] what we’re doing is really no different to what the advertising industry at large is doing across the commercial space.
“The science of political campaigning goes back hundreds of years and what we’re doing is a natural evolution to what’s been done before and many other people are doing as well.”
He added: “Part of the issue is that [Trump] is somewhat polarising, so people see the work we did in a negative light. They refuse to accept the fact that Clinton’s machine was twice the size or three times the size of anything we were doing for Trump.”
When asked about Facebook, he said: “We do not work with Facebook data, and we do not have Facebook data. We do use Facebook as a platform to advertise, as do all brands and most agencies, or all agencies.”
Mr Collins gave Mr Nix until next Tuesday, 27 March, to reply to his letter.
Mr Wylie has also been invited to appear before the committee.
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