Just weeks before the U.S. Presidential election, British regulators issued the findings of a three-year investigation that -- on its surface -- appears to exonerate one of the perceived villains leading up to the 2016 election: Cambridge Analytica (CA).
While the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office did not probe CA’s role in the U.S. election, it concluded that the Big Data firm did not misuse consumer data to influence a prelude: the U.K.’s Brexit vote.
In a letter to Parliament, the investigators said they found no evidence that CA breached the law, or that it aided Russian intervention in the U.K., but actually confirms an earlier conclusion that “there are systematic vulnerabilities in our democratic systems,” according to a report by The Guardian.
Case closed? Not according to GroupM Business Intelligence chief Brian Wieser.
“Some observers may have treated this as indicating that the whole affair may have been a scandal that never was,” Wieser writes in the latest edition of his Global Marketing Monitor report, noting, “Nothing in the letter, however, took away from bigger issues of mismanaged data access, poor ethical behavior and heightened awareness by consumers of legal uses of data, which were inconsistent with expectations and which contributed to enhancing the polarization of societies around the world.”
While U.K. investigators see no reason for legal action (CA effectively shut down in 2018), the end note should not be that it did nothing wrong, but that it served as a poster child for the dangers of applying Big Data to disinformation campaigns to influence the outcome of political processes.
The U.S. may never know the full extent of its impact on the 2016 Presidential election, but what we do know is that it was brought to bear on the U.S. election by the powerful Mercer family and former Trump/Pence campaign manager Steve Bannon, and appropriated and leveraged the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to clandestinely influence voters leading up to the election.