Cambridge Analytica chief suspended following undercover sting

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The chief executive of the controversial British data firm at the centre of allegations of electoral interference has been suspended, the company has announced.

In a statement, the board of Cambridge Analytica (CA) said that Alexander Nix had been suspended “with immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation”.

It said comments by Mr Nix recorded in secret filming by Channel 4 News and “other allegations” did not represent “the values or operations of the firm” and that his suspension “reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation”.

On Monday Channel 4 News screened footage of Mr Nix apparently offering to entrap the political rival of a reporter posing as a wealthy Sri Lankan saying they could “send some girls around“ to his home.

He also suggested making the rival candidate an offer “that’s too good to be true” and then putting the video recording on the internet as “evidence of corruption”.

Previously Chris Wylie, a former research director at the company, told Channel 4 News that it had carried out a so-called data grab on more than 50 million Facebook profiles in 2014.

Earlier, the parliamentary committee investigating fake news announced that it was summoning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence, accusing the company of giving “misleading” answers at a previous hearing on the issue.

In its statement, the CA board said chief data officer Alexander Tayler had been appointed acting chief executive while an investigation was carried out by Julian Malins QC whose findings they would “share publicly in due course”.

“In the view of the board, Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” it said.

“The board will be monitoring the situation closely, working closely with Dr Tayler, to ensure that Cambridge Analytica, in all of its operations, represents the firm’s values and delivers the highest-quality service to its clients.”

Earlier the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who is investigating the use of personal data for political campaigns, confirmed she was seeking a warrant to access CA’s systems after the firm failed to respond to an earlier demand.

Arriving at CA’s offices in New Oxford Street in London on Tuesday, Mr Nix told reporters that “appearances can be deceptive” when asked about the Channel 4 News filming.

Asked if CA would abandon its political work Mr Nix gave no reply but firmly denied he had misled Parliament when he gave evidence over its use of data, saying “absolutely not”.

On Monday, Mr Nix told BBC’s Newsnight the firm had been the victim of a “co-ordinated attack by the media” because of its involvement in Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign.

He said he had spoken with “a certain amount of hyperbole” in his conversation with the undercover reporter.

He added: “I have some regrets about the way that I have represented what the company does.

“I certainly feel that the air of mystery and negativity that surrounds the work of Cambridge is misfounded and, as the CEO, I take responsibility for that.”

Meanwhile Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said they wanted to hear answers from the very top of Facebook.

CA was suspended from the social media giant last week after it emerged that data on millions of users had not been destroyed as agreed.

Mr Collins accused the company of having given answers “misleading to the committee” at a previous hearing when it was asked whether information had been taken without users’ consent.

In a letter to Mr Zuckerberg, he wrote: “It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process.

“Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”

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