British data firm Cambridge Analytica is currently under fire on multiple continents for its methods, namely using data illegitimately collected from Facebook users in order to create psychological profiles of some 50 million American voters. For some perspective, if that 50 million number holds, it would account for more than a quarter of the votes cast on election day in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes with nearly 63 million votes. The London-based firm linked up with the Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, but former Trump campaign chief and White House adviser Steve Bannon was involved with the company long before the Trump campaign has morphed from theoretical nightmare to an actual one. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Bannon, who was then the head of Breitbart News with a billionaire patron in Robert Mercer, was deeply influential in the early formation of Cambridge Analytica and signed off on its acquisition of the dodgy data.
From June 2014 until August 2016, when Bannon joined the Trump campaign, the sudden Trump confidante served as the vice president and secretary of Cambridge Analytica. Bannon also served on the company’s board and owned a portion of the company estimated to be worth between $1 million and $5 million. Former Cambridge Analytica research director Chris Wylie, who has over the last week acted as a whistleblower divulging the internal functioning of the company, told the Post that Bannon was “deeply involved in the company’s strategy and approved spending nearly $1 million to acquire data, including Facebook profiles, in 2014.”
“We had to get Bannon to approve everything at this point. Bannon was Alexander Nix’s boss,” Wylie told the Post. “Alexander Nix didn’t have the authority to spend that much money without approval.” That puts Bannon squarely in the timeframe where the upstart data company was trying to build its trove in order to construct a database to target voters. Cambridge Analytica has claimed innocence and ignorance of how the data was collected that allowed it to build voter profiles and, the Post notes, it’s not clear if Bannon knew how individuals’ personal data was obtained. So far the brunt of the criticism has been directed at Russian researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who created the app that was used to scrap the data of millions of Facebook users. Kogan told CNN Tuesday he didn’t believe he was violating Facebook’s data policy at the time and relied on the assurances of Chris Wylie at Cambridge Analytica.