European consultants are distancing themselves from Cambridge Analytica as new privacy rules for the EU are set to take effect.
In the United States, fallout from the revelations in Channel 4’s expose of CA have been manifested primarily in anger directed at Facebook for allowing the firm to mine more than 50 million users’ data. Since the story broke, thousands of users have proclaimed that they’re deleting their accounts in protest.
But in the European Union, where concern about privacy has caused a tightening of laws regulating the use of personal data, there is a greater risk that consultants could lose business if they’re seen as mimicking practices by CA.
In particular, the European Association of Political Consultants (EAPC) on Wednesday singled out the practice that Alexander Nix, CA’s chief executive, seemed to espouse.
During Channel 4’s undercover recording, Nix is heard telling the reporter, who posed as the representative of a rich Sri Lankan family, “Send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things. We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying.”
Nix has been suspended from the company, which worked for President Trump during the 2016 US presidential election, in the wake of the reports, pending an internal investigation.
The EAPC said in a statement: “Campaign consultants SCL/Cambridge Analytica appear to have crossed the line in terms of professional and ethical responsibilities. There are clearly concerns that have been raised about using “honey-traps” and actions that may have exerted inappropriate influence on both candidates and the voting public.
We strongly encourage all members to be fully open and transparent, and to challenge client requests for work that may be less than fair and honest or against the interests of democracy.”
Still, the trade group, which requires its members to sign onto its ethics guidelines, didn’t condemn using data analytics.
“There are significant benefits for democracy in speaking to more voters about those issues and concerns that are important to them in the interests of a better democracy that works for all,” the group said. “The EAPC is bipartisan and actively supports the growth of data analytics on both the left and right.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week pledged to prevent such a breach of its users data from happening again.
“While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn't change what happened in the past,” he wrote in a post. “We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.”
That apology may not be enough to spare Facebook’s business from European backlash.
In fact, the EU has new privacy rules that come into effect in May. Those rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, put the burden of protecting users data on the collector.
“If and when it’s not possible to show that all necessary action was taken to protect and process data in the proper way, significant sanctions can be levied, including fines up to 20 Million Euro or up to 4 percent of a
company’s annual worldwide turnover,” Peter Noordhoek, a political analyst based in The Netherlands, wrote in C&E last August.