The abrupt demise of Cambridge Analytica, the high-tech consulting firm, stems not from a traditional business failure but — somewhat surprisingly — from its triumphs in the political arena.
Had its clients Donald Trump and the Brexit movement lost at the polls in 2016, there would have been little public interest in examining the company’s methods.
But because of their wins, it became a big deal when CEO Alexander Nix, for example, told reporters who were posing as potential customers about plans to slime and trap opposing candidates.
“It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed,” Nix said.
Funded by Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer and guided by ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica — under the parent group SCL Elections — drew scrutiny as the latest big thing in high-tech politicking.
While Nix’s pitch played a role in the firm’s demise, way more significant was Facebook’s decision to suspend it in light of allegations it wrongfully harvested personal data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts.
Whether or not the anti-immigration and anti-Clinton propaganda sent to those users swayed an election is hard to say.
But Cambridge did end up on the winning side with its use of so-called “psychographic” data, and its admirers in the Trump circle laid claim to a share of the credit.
The company has denied all wrongdoing. Last week it was announced that SCL would begin insolvency proceedings in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller was reported weeks ago to be reviewing the company’s work for the Trump campaign.
That adds even more interest on the political front.
Nix already acknowledged reaching out to WikiLeaks for hacked Hillary Clinton-related emails. Also, Brad Parscale, who is now Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, worked closely with the Cambridge company on the last Trump race.
Mercer has since cut ties to Bannon.
Now there’s talk that Cambridge Analytica’s ideological mission will live on in other entities. Mercer daughters Jennifer and Rebekah are directors of a firm called Emerdata, founded last year.
Perhaps further operations are just being offloaded, to avoid Cambridge’s now-sour brand name.
Whatever the plan, the epitaph for Cambridge Analytica might as well read, “Mission Accomplished.”
That mission, after all, was different from the ordinary corporate goal of selling goods and services and turning a profit.