More evidence has sprung up about the dubious practices of the data mining firm, specializing in helping political groups, Cambridge Analytica, showing that they mined and harvested information on people, selling it to political candidates and groups to influence U.S. elections.
The firm which mined information for the presidential campaign in 2016 and has close ties to Trump's former key advisor Steve Bannon, is partly owned by the hedge fund billionaire, GOP megadonor Robert Merce.
It started as a U.K. PR firm known for its political lobbying acumen called, Strategic Communication Laboratories Group — SCL Group. The group based its working on standard political messaging and PR work, primarily working in the areas of "big data" and "psychographic profiling" and is known to have had clients including governments and politicians in Indonesia, Thailand, Kenya, the U.K., and elsewhere.
Back then, the group came up with the idea of political targeting based on the individuals’ personalities or their psychological profiles instead of the traditional demographical yardsticks like age, race, or gender.
On Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica also suspended CEO Alexander Nix with immediate effect, pending an independent investigation.
According to Vox News, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO also reached out to Julian Assange before, during, and after the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
"Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation," the firm said in a statement.
But before Nix's suspension, Vox News quoted Channel 4 which secretly taped some Cambridge executives, including eventually CEO Alexander Nix, as they pitched their services to a wealthy Sri Lankan interested in influencing politics in his home country.
The role of Cambridge Analytica becomes essential in the light of the ongoing special counsel Mueller’s probe which seeks to find whether anyone on Trump’s team had inside knowledge about or played any role in the hacking and leaking of prominent Democrats’ emails in 2016.
According to a March report cited by Slate, despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to "drain the swamp," at least 187 Trump political appointees have been federal lobbyists, including several officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and the big pharma and agro-chemical groups lobbying groups.
"Focusing on novel scandals alone can distract from the enormous scale of the Trump administration’s embrace of revolving-door hiring," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the CT Monitor.
Cambridge Analytica first gained prominence in 2015, when The Guardian published a lengthy report detailing how the data mining firm sold "psychographic profiles" of U.S. citizens to Ted Cruz to aid with his presidential bid. The firm also sold mined data to the Republican candidate Ben Carson for US$220,000 from his campaign in 2016.
Bud Jackson, a Democratic specialist in digital grassroots campaigning, told The Guardian, "If people begin to be turned off by Trump, the Cruz campaign will probably have a better strategic understanding of the implications and how to capitalize upon them."
Adding, "Where a candidate’s campaign may be afraid to go outside the boundaries of ethical behavior because of a potential public backlash, an outside group may be less afraid."
Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said The Guardian's findings as “troubling" and also placed the blame on the Federal Election Commission, FEC, for its lack of adequate regulation of the campaigns’ use of data.
“What it essentially means is there is no one regulating campaigns’ privacy data and security practices,” he said, according to the Guardian. “So it means you have a wild west, where the campaigns can do whatever they want and get away with it.”