Cambridge Analytica has suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, following an undercover sting that has prompted allegations of electoral interference.
The data analytics firm which worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign, and has been linked to Brexit, is embroiled in a storm over Facebook data and dirty tactics following an investigation by Channel 4 News and The Guardian.
In a statement, the board of Cambridge Analytica (CA) said that Nix had been suspended “with immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation”, and that his comments do not reflect the firm’s “values or operations”.
Earlier, the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who is investigating the use of personal data for political campaigns, confirmed she was seeking a warrant to access CA’s systems after the firm failed to respond to an earlier demand.
And the parliamentary committee investigating fake news announced that it was summoning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence, accusing the company of giving “misleading” answers at a previous hearing on the issue.
Senior executives of the firm, including Nix, were caught on camera claiming they could bribe politicians, entrap them with sex workers, or use ex-spies to dig dirt on political opponents and then post any damaging material online.
And in the second part of the investigation, broadcast on Tuesday night just as Nix’s suspension was announced, secret recordings captured him boasting of the firm’s pivotal role in securing Trump’s election victory.
Filmed by a Channel 4 News journalist posing as a fixer for a wealthy Sri Lankan family seeking to get candidates elected, Nix claims his firm ran “all” the elements of the Trump campaign.
Previously Chris Wylie, a former research director at the company, told Channel 4 News that it had carried out a so-called data grab on more than 50 million Facebook profiles in 2014.
Arriving at CA’s offices in New Oxford Street in London on Tuesday, Nix told reporters that “appearances can be deceptive” when asked about the Channel 4 News filming.
Asked if CA would abandon its political work Nix gave no reply but firmly denied he had misled Parliament when he gave evidence over its use of data, saying “absolutely not”.
The firm’s statement on his suspension said:
“The board of Cambridge Analytica has announced today that it has suspended CEO Alexander Nix with immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation.
“In the view of the Board, Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.
“We have asked Dr Alexander Tayler to serve as acting CEO while an independent investigation is launched to review those comments and allegations.
“We have asked Julian Malins QC to lead this investigation, the findings of which the board will share publicly in due course.
“The board will be monitoring the situation closely, working closely with Dr Tayler, to ensure that Cambridge Analytica, in all of its operations, represents the firm’s values and delivers the highest-quality service to its clients.”
On Monday, Nix told BBC’s Newsnight the firm had been the victim of a “co-ordinated attack by the media” because of its involvement in Trump’s presidential election campaign.
He said he had spoken with “a certain amount of hyperbole” in his conversation with the undercover reporter.
He added: “I have some regrets about the way that I have represented what the company does.
“I certainly feel that the air of mystery and negativity that surrounds the work of Cambridge is misfounded and, as the CEO, I take responsibility for that.”
Meanwhile Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said they wanted to hear answers from the very top of Facebook.
CA was suspended from the social media giant last week after it emerged that data on millions of users had not been destroyed as agreed.
Collins accused the company of having given answers “misleading to the committee” at a previous hearing when it was asked whether information had been taken without users’ consent.
In a letter to Mr Zuckerberg, he wrote: “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.
“Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”