Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix suspended over data breach scandal

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been invited to answer questions in Brussels and London

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix suspended over data breach scandal

Alexander Nix leaves the Cambridge Analytica offices in central London | Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated: 20.55

British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO Alexander Nix in the wake of a series of allegations.

Facebook is currently facing investigations by authorities in the EU, UK and the US, over a reported data breach that impacted more than 50 million individuals.

Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump's campaign team, is accused of using millions of Facebook profiles without authorisation to predict and influence the US election.

The board of Cambridge Analytica says it has suspended Mr Nix pending a full independent investigation of his actions.

The suspension is effective immediately.

Comments Mr Nix made to an undercover reporter for Britain's Channel 4 News and other allegations of wrongdoing were cited as reasons for the action by the board.

The firm said Mr Nix's statements "do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view the violation."

"We have asked Dr Alexander Tayler to serve as acting CEO while an independent investigation is launched to review those comments and allegations."

It is alleged that Cambridge Analytica provided data on the thoughts of American voters to Mr Trump's political campaign strategists.

In secretly recorded conversations, Mr Nix claimed he had met Trump "many times", according to The Guardian.

"We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy," Mr Nix told undercover reporters.

The paper also reports that senior managers appeared to suggest that in their work for American clients there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated "political action groups".

If true, this could be considered coordination, which is not allowed under US election law.

Mr Nix also was filmed boasting about using "Ukrainian girls" who are "very beautiful" to entrap the political opponents of clients.

Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing.

Cambridge Analytica statement | Image:

It comes as the European Parliament invited Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before it to answer questions.

President Antonio Tajani said he invited Mr Zuckerberg to "clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy."

Mr Zuckerberg has not commented on reports or made any public appearances following their publication.

The chair of a UK culture committee, Damian Collins, also said he has written to the Facebook chief executive to formally request he appear before them.

Mr Collins wrote that the committee "has repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular about whether data had been taken without their consent.

"Your officials' answers have consistently understated this risk, and have been misleading to the Committee," Mr Collins said.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is pictured during a joint press conference on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Deauville, France in 2011 | Image: Orban Thierry/ABACA/PA Images

"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."

In his letter, Mr Collins continued: "There is a strong public interest test regarding user protection. Accordingly we are sure you will understand the need for a representative from right at the top of the organisation to address concerns.

"Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to 'fixing' Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you."

Cambridge Analytica is accused of illegally harvesting the personal data of 50 million Facebook users.

Facebook suffered a stock fall of 7% on Monday, which wiped US$37bn (€30.1bn) off its value.

Facebook may also be facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission regarding whether it may have violated the terms of a consent decree, according to Bloomberg.

This investigation related to whether it allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data in violation of its policies, according to Bloomberg's anonymous source.

It follows news that Facebook's staff were themselves attending Cambridge Analytica's offices on Monday night.

Cambridge Analytica reaction

Cambridge Analytica said earlier it had been in touch with the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) since February 2017, when it hosted the ICO's team in its London office "to provide total transparency on all the data we hold, its usage, and other aspects of our business".

"We have been fully compliant and proactive in our conversations with the ICO," the company added.

"Since early last year we have subsequently cooperated with the ICO on multiple lines of enquiry, including most recently on the Facebook data and derivatives that we received from GSR, the research company that we engaged in good faith to legally supply data for research.

"On this point we have offered to share with the ICO all the information that it asked for and for the ICO to attend our office voluntarily, subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection.

"We remain committed to helping the ICO and all other concerned organisations in their investigations and audits."

On Tuesday afternoon, around 10 plastic boxes were removed from an address in Oxford Street, central London, where Cambridge Analytica is based.

The building is home to several companies and the men removing the boxes would not confirm where they had come from. At least one box contained files, documents and papers.

With reporting from Jack Quann