Cambridge Analytica shuts down but founders turn up at new firm

Cambridge Analytica has closed its doors, citing mounting legal costs and loss of clients since its involvement with a Facebook data breach was exposed.

The US company's British affiliate, SCL Group, is also shutting down.

However, within hours of the news of Cambridge Analytica's demise, The Register noted the UK Companies House has already posted a new listing for a company called Emerdata Ltd, "headquartered at the same office as SCL Elections and run by much of the same management and investors as Cambridge Analytica."

The Register concludes, "it seems the 'bankruptcy' may be less a business catastrophe than a marketing exercise."

But US media like Wired and the Wall Street Journal have taken a different tack on Cambridge Analytica's decline in fortunes.

Their general meme is that clients walked away in part because of brand embarrassment but also because Analytica was over-hyped. 

It promised a lot in terms of psychological profiling of customers but under-delivered, the Journal says in an article that quotes clients.

Chief executive Alexander Nix talked up advanced big data tactics but much of Analytica's work was traditional Facebook marketing, the unnamed clients say.

The Trump campaign spent $US9 million with Analytica but it is not clear how much that budget affected an election where the Republican insurgent also displayed a low-tech, gut instinct for harnessing voter anger.

As part of its work for the Trump Campaign, Analytica contracted a researcher to post a personality quiz to Facebook to harvest user data.

By exploiting a Facebook policy at the time that allowed apps to access a user's friends and friends-of-friends' data (also exploited earlier by the Obama campaign), Analytica was able to access personal information on 83 million Facebook users.

In New Zealand, only 10 people took the personality test, Facebook says. However, due to the app's ability to access a user's friends, and friends of friends' data, Analytica ended up with 63,714 Kiwis' data.

Facebook only admitted to the extent of Analytica's access to its customers' data after it was exposed in the media. 

The social network has since tightened its privacy policies, to a degree, and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has appeared before both the US Congress and Senate – where pundits generally thought he acquitted himself well against lawmakers who lacked the knowledge to ask sharp follow-up questions.

It's still uncertain if the US or other countries will impose new regulations on the social network. But in the first quarter of 2018, the Analytica scandal didn't touch the sides, with Facebook reporting gains in the number of its users and record profit.

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