The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm, and have sought to question former employees and banks that handled its business. Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in recent weeks, telling them that there is an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which worked on President Trump’s election and other Republican campaigns in 2016 — and “associated U.S.
In recent months, executives at Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group, along with the Mercer family, have moved to created a new firm, Emerdata, based in Britain, according to British records. The new company’s directors include Johnson Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and business partner of Erik Prince. Prince founded the private security firm Blackwater, which was renamed Xe Services after Blackwater contractors were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians.
Several Republicans with knowledge of Cambridge’s business said that fallout from the Facebook scandal — combined with widespread doubts about the accuracy of Cambridge’s psychological profiles of voters — had effectively crippled the firm’s election work in the United States. “They’re selling magic in a bottle,” said Matt Braynard, who worked alongside Cambridge on the Trump campaign, for which he served as the director of data and strategy, and now runs Look Ahead America, a group seeking to turn out disaffected rural and blue-collar voters. “And they’re becoming toxic.”
Facebook has said that political data firm Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested the public profile data of up to 87 million of its users, including their political beliefs, interests and friends’ information. Now the company has revealed that the extent of the harvesting went even further — it included people’s private messages, too.
As a start-up called Cambridge Analytica sought to harvest the Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans in summer 2014, the company received help from at least one employee at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley contractor to American spy agencies and the Pentagon. It was a Palantir employee in London, working closely with the data scientists building Cambridge’s psychological profiling technology, who suggested the scientists create their own app — a mobile-phone-based personality quiz — to gain access to Facebook users’ friend networks. Cambridge ultimately took a similar ap
In November 2017, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many fake users as it previously estimated, indicating that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations. Yet their creation and sale fall into a legal gray zone. Despite rising criticism of social media companies and growing scrutiny by elected officials, the trade in fake followers has remained largely opaque.
An examination of 75 think tanks found an array of researchers who had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles. With their expertise and authority, think tank scholars offer themselves as independent arbiters, playing a vital role in Washington’s political economy. Their imprimatur helps shape government decisions that can be lucrative to corporations. But the examination identified dozens of examples of scholars conducting research at think tanks while corporations were paying them to help shape government policy. Many think tanks also readily confer “nonresident scholar” status on lobbyists, former government officials and others who earn their primary living working for private clients, with few restrictions on such outside work. Largely free from disclosure requirements, the researchers’ work is often woven into elaborate corporate lobbying campaigns.
Over the many months that officials in Washington debated sweeping new regulations for internet providers, Jeffrey A. Eisenach, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, was hard to miss. He wrote op-ed pieces, including for The New York Times, that were critical of the rules. He filed formal comments with the Federal Communications Commission, where he also met privately with senior lawyers. He appeared before Congress and issued reports detailing how destructive the new rules would be. “Net neutrality would not improve consumer welfare or protect the public interest,” Eisenach testified in September 2014 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Intense advocacy by a think tank scholar is not notable in itself, but Eisenach, 58, a former aide at the Federal Trade Commission, has held another job: as a paid consultant for Verizon and its trade association.