The British company at the centre of the Facebook privacy scandal has filed for bankruptcy but some of the key players have already set up another similar business.
SCL Elections Ltd. announced on Wednesday that it was filing for insolvency in Britain and the United States and closing all of its operations, including its subsidiary Cambridge Analytica. The London-based company said Cambridge Analytica had faced “numerous unfounded accusations” and been “vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas.”
The media “siege” had driven away clients and suppliers, the company added, making it no longer viable to continue. However, corporate registration documents in London indicate that several SCL and Cambridge Analytica executives have launched a new venture called Emerdata Ltd.
Cambridge Analytica and SCL have been under fire for months over allegations they illegally used data harvested from 87 million Facebook accounts to sway election campaigns in the United States, including the presidential race in 2016. The allegations surfaced after Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica staffer from Canada, came forward in March with internal documents describing how the company improperly used the Facebook data while working on Donald Trump’s campaign and during the U.S. Republican party primaries.
He also alleged that a Cambridge Analytica affiliate, Victoria-based AggregateIQ, helped SCL engage in dirty tricks in campaigns in St. Kitts, Nigeria and Kenya. SCL, Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ have all consistently denied the allegations.
Mr. Wylie’s revelations have prompted several investigations in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, and led to calls for more regulation of Facebook Inc. Governments around the world are considering tougher privacy laws and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has promised the company will “execute on all the things we need to do to keep people safe.”
On Wednesday, a London lawyer hired by SCL to investigate the allegations took Mr. Wylie to task, saying in a report that he was little more than a “student intern” who worked two days a week at SCL for 10 months and had limited knowledge of coding or computers.
“Wylie’s involvement with SCL was very modest,” lawyer Julian Malins wrote in his report. “I have found no evidence to support his suggestion that he was a key player with SCL,” he said. He added that Mr. Wylie left SCL in 2014 and created a company called Eunoia Technologies which tried to compete against SCL but ultimately failed. Mr. Malins’s report also cleared SCL of alleged misconduct in election campaigns and he said Cambridge Analytica deleted the Facebook data after a request from the social media giant, and did not share the information.
A Cambridge Analytica spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, has also said the company found the Facebook data useless and said it wasn’t used during Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. Last week Mr. Mitchell insisted that SCL was “getting back on track.”
“As I understand it there have been very few departures and everybody that’s working there is committed and actually the morale is pretty good now,” he told reporters.
In a statement Wednesday, Jeff Silvester, the chief operating officer of AggregateIQ, said the company remained a separate, viable business. “AggregateIQ is and has always been 100-per-cent Canadian owned and operated. AggregateIQ has never been a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL. We have no plans to close our business,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Wylie shot back and raised questions about Emerdata. “Cambridge Analytica specialises in disinformation!” he said via Twitter. “We need to make sure their shut down is not just some rebranding or a way to hide from investigations. The same people set up another company and yesterday issued new company resolutions! Smells fishy.”
Several former SCL and Cambridge Analytica executives have moved on to Emerdata, which is registered to the same London address as SCL. The directors of Emerdata include Cambridge Analytica’s former chief data officer Alexander Tayler and former SCL chairman Julian Wheatland. Jennifer Mercer and Rebekah Anne Mercer also recently joined the company’s board. They are daughters of Robert Mercer, a U.S. billionaire and Republican backer who helped launch Cambridge Analytica in 2013 along with Steve Bannon, who ran Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.
It’s not clear whether Emerdata is operating, although filings also indicate that SCL founder Alexander Nix, who had been suspended as chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, has also played a role at the company. Corporate filings simply indicate that the nature of the company’s business is “data processing, hosting and related activities.”