This article contains clarifications and has been given equal prominence to the original articles.
At 11.02 am on the 3rd of May 2017, I wrote to the SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections asking specific questions arising from this investigation and relating to article 3 and article 4.
At 15.36 hours today, Thursday the 4th of May 2017, I received a reply from Cambridge Analytica’s press email address, answering the questions.
The subject line read “Complaint” and the email was copied to the ethics team at the National Union of Journalists (of which I am a freelance member), Byline, and Impress (the new press regulator I work to the regulations of).
The company wrote “You have published a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations about Cambridge Analytica in your Byline blogs entitled “Data Laundering: The New Chemical Warfare” (28 April) and “The Big Data Wash” (3 May). Most appear to have been lifted from other blogs or reports and without any attempt at verification.”
They went on to list a number of points requesting me to “let us know how Byline intends to correct these mistakes” but also provided answers to the original questions I had asked.
The specific clarifications requested by Cambridge Analytica are below, but for the sake of clarity and chronology, the original questions and responses from a company spokesperson are shown first.
1. Have SCL Elections / Cambridge Analytica ever been investigated by the ICO for data breaches / are you currently under investigation by the ICO?
“No and no. CA/SCL has never been investigated by the ICO for data breaches. We are compliant with data laws. Like a range of organisations, we are in touch, with the ICO, to help them with their ongoing assessment into the use of data analytics.”
2. What is your official comment on the Electoral Commission investigation in the LEAVE.EU campaign, which appears to centre around donations of services by yourselves.
“We did not do any work (paid or unpaid) for Leave.EU.”
3. Are you aware that the practice of data collection by way of surveys for other uses, including the sales of database to others, and viral marketing, falls within the ICO definition of ‘sugging’? Are you continuing this practice?
“Whenever we conduct research, we have the explicit consent of each respondent for the use of their data.”
4. Do you buy from or sell data to Leave.EU, Better For The Country Ltd, or Big Data Dolphins? Have you bought or sold data from these companies in the past?
“No we have not.”
1. Cambridge Analytica says it did not use psychometrics on the Trump campaign.
This point is noted for the record, though this video was filmed at the Concordia Summit in the United States of America in September 2016. The presentation is by Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix. YouTube
In the video Mr Nix states that Cambridge Analytica had profiled all adult Americans and,
before leaving the stage, announced that one of the remaining
presidential candidates was using this new technology. At that time there
were two candidates left in US election, Donald Trump and Hilary
In a broadly reported press release from Cambridge Analytica, Mr Nix is quoted as saying “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to
data-driven communication has played such an integral part in
President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win.”
When later reports started to critique the company’s technique, Mr Nix was quoted in March 2017, by the New York Times, as saying “We bake a cake, it’s got 10 ingredients in it. Psychographics is one of them,” he said. “It’s very difficult to isolate exactly what the impact of that ingredient is.”
2. Cambridge Analytica states it did not work (paid or unpaid) for Leave.EU and did not work on the work on the EU Referendum.
This point is noted for the record, though the Electoral Commission is currently investigating donation-in-kind of services made to Leave.EU and this journalisitic investigation has referred further information to both the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s office.
Documents seen by this journalistic investigation, backed up by other reports show that a working link between Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU did exist.
3. Cambridge Analytica say their psychometric offering is not based on a method developed by a Cambridge academic and that the OCEAN personality model has been around for about 30 years. They also deny any dealings with academic researcher Michael Kosinski of Cambridge University.
It is known and accepted that the OCEAN model has been for around thirty years.
The sections of the original articles which Cambridge Analytica potentially highlight say:
“Scientific research, including that by Michael Kosinski at Cambridge University, has shown that a big data profile can be used to develop targeted marketing or messaging, designed to drive a behavioural response in an individual. The technique is known as either psychographics or psychometrics and has become famous following its use by Cambridge Analytica in the Trump and Brexit campaigns.”
“A basic profile, as Michael Kosinski found in his research, can predict your behaviours just based on social media likes. An advanced profile, based on what websites you visit, what news you read, your job, your politics, your purchases, your medical records, would mean such a company knows you better than you know yourself.”
“One of their primary functions is to acquire data through surveys – a method first developed by a Cambridge academic, upon which the work of Cambridge Analytica’s psychometric profiling is based.”
In response to the request for clarification, the third sentence has been amended in the original article to read as follows:
“One of their primary functions is to acquire data through surveys – a
method first developed by a Cambridge academic and which bears similarities to
aspects of Cambridge Analytica’s psychometric profiling.”
4. Cambridge Analytica states that it does not use Facebook likes.
5. Cambridge Analytica states it has no connection whatsoever with “fake news” or “alternative facts”.
6. Cambridge Analytica states that it did not use “bots” on the presidential campaign.
Points 4, 5 and 6 are noted for the record, though the articles attribute none of these to Cambridge Analytica.
7. Cambridge Analytica states it has never transferred any data to Leave.EU.
This point is noted for the record, though concerns raised as a direct result of this journalistic investigation have been referred to the appropriate authority, the ICO, to investigate.