20 Jul

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

Old Version Shut Down

After news of the scandal, which saw the details of an estimated 87 million Facebook users (mostly in the US) being shared with CA, and then used by CA to target people with political messages in relation to the last US presidential elections, CA was shut down by its parent company SCL Elections. CA is widely reported to have ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal.

Ethical This Time

Auspex, which (it should be stressed) is not just another version of CA, but is likely to carry on the same kind of data analysis work, has been set up by Ahmed Al-Khatib, a former director of Emerdata which was also set up after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mr Al-Khatib has been reported as saying that Auspex will use ethically based, data-driven communications with a focus on improving the lives of people in the developing world.

Middle East and Africa

The markets in the developing world that Auspex will initially be focusing on are the Middle East and Africa, and the kinds of ethical work that it will be doing, according Auspex’s own communications, are health campaigning and tackling the spread of extremist ideology among a disenfranchised youth.

Compliant

Auspex has been quick to state that it has made changes and that it will be fully compliant from the outset, thereby hoping to further distance itself from its murky origins in CA.

Personnel

One thing that is likely to attract the attention of critics is that, not only is Mark Turnbull, the former head of CA’s political division the new Auspex Managing Director, but that the listed directors of the new company include Alastair Harris, who is reported to have worked at CA, and Omar Al-Khatib is listed as a citizen of the Seychelles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal is relatively recent, and the ICO have only just presented their report about the incident. For many people, it may not feel right that personnel from Cambridge Analytica can appear to simply set up under another name and start again. Critics can be forgiven for perhaps not trusting statements about a new ethical approach, especially since Mark Turnbull appeared alongside former CA chief executive Alexander Nix in an undercover film by Channel 4, where Nix gave examples of how his company could discredit politicians e.g. by setting up encounters with prostitutes.

The introduction of GDPR has brought the matters of data security and privacy into sharp focus for businesses in the UK, and businesses will be all too aware of the possible penalties if they get on the wrong side of the ICO.

In the case of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO has recently announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches, and that it is still considering taking legal action against CA’s company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.