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US investigates now-defunct Cambridge Analytica

Read time 3min 10sec
Cambridge Analytica has closed its central London offices.
Cambridge Analytica has closed its central London offices.

The US Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook user information, the New York Times reported.

Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry.

Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by president Donald Trump's 2016 US election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.

French president Emmanuel Macron.
French president Emmanuel Macron.

The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company's financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.

Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.

The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica were not immediately available to comment.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on US elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House in August 2017.

'Tough discussions'

Meanwhile, in further fallout from the data fiasco, French president Emmanuel Macron will hold "frank" talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on tax and data privacy in a week's time when he welcomes the bosses of leading tech firms to Paris in a drive to lure more investment.

The French leader's office said he would meet Zuckerberg and more than a dozen technology chief executives during a "Tech for Good" summit at which he will pitch France Inc but also push his case for an EU tax on digital turnover and call for a tougher battle against fake news.

Also expected at the Elysee Palace event are IBM's Virginia Rometty, Intel's Brian Krzanich and Microsoft's Satya Nadella.

Macron, 40, paints himself as a champion of France's plugged-in youth and wants to transform France into a "start-up nation", but he is also spearheading efforts in Europe to have digital tax companies pay more tax at source.

The summit comes at a time Facebook is under pressure in the United States and Europe over data privacy after it emerged that tens of millions of users' personal data was harvested from the Web site by Cambridge Analytica.

"There will be tough discussions," one official in Macron's office said.

Macron will hold a one-on-one meeting with Zuckerberg, during which all subjects will be raised in "very frank" discussions, the president's office said.

In April, Zuckerberg fielded questions over two days from US lawmakers over how it handles private data, refusing to make any promises to support new legislation or change how the social network does business.

Lawmakers in Europe are demanding answers too and the European Parliament has requested Zuckerberg appear before the assembly more than once.

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