The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed it will continue its civil and criminal investigations into Cambridge Analytica and hunt down the directors of the business, despite last night’s announcement that the data company is shutting up shop.
The move comes as it has emerged that directors of the firm – which has been accused of unlawfully acquiring data from up to 87 million Facebook profiles – have set up a separate business called Emerdata, which describes itself as a “data processing, hosting and related activities” organisation.
According to Companies House, its directors include Cambridge Analytica’s acting CEO Dr Alexander Taylor, who joined Emerdata on March 28 – ten days after the scandal first broke – as well as Julian Wheatland, who is also a director of the parent SCL Group.
Damian Collins, chair of the Commons select committee for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, told the BBC: “We’ve got to make sure this isn’t an attempt to run and hide, that these companies are not closing down to try to avoid them being rigorously investigated over the allegations that are being made against them.”
In a statement, Cambridge Analytica denied any wrong-doing and said the decision to close the business had been triggered by a mass exodus of customers and suppliers.
It said: “Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the company’s efforts to correct the record, has 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.
“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, which view is now fully supported by [Queen’s Counsel Julian] Malins’ report, the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers.”
An ICO spokeswoman said the regulator will “examine closely” the details of the closure and will “closely monitor any successor companies”.
She added: “The ICO has been investigating the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica as part of a wider investigation into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, social media companies and others.
“The ICO will continue its civil and criminal investigations and will seek to pursue individuals and directors as appropriate and necessary even where companies may no longer be operating.”
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