Cambridge Analytica, the shady political consulting firm best known for obtaining a whole heap of personal information from Facebook users without their consent, might be dead and gone. But some of its former employees are reportedly hard at work on the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump.
According to the Associated Press, Data Propria—a voter targeting firm that operates similarly to Cambridge Analytica—has at least four former staffers from the defunct-and-derided data analysis company on its staff. Data Propria has reportedly already started efforts to help President Trump’s re-election effort in 2020 after contracting for his campaign in 2016.
The new firm is headed up by Matt Oczkowski, the former head of product at Cambridge Analytica, and the company’s former lead data scientist David Wilkinson. According to a press release from Cambridge Analytica issued after the 2016 US presidential elections while the company was in the middle of a victory lap, Wilkinson was behind the voter data modeling effort that encouraged the Trump campaign to focus on the Rust Belt.
Oczkowski denied any involvement in Trump’s re-election campaign and said that the London-based Wilkinson is a contractor who won’t be involved in Data Propria’s political work in the US (federal election laws prevent foreign nationals from “directing, controlling or directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process” of US campaigns).
Despite the denials, the AP reported that Oczkowski and his firm are in fact working on Trump’s campaign. That is in part because of anonymous sources familiar with Data Propria’s efforts and, hilariously, because two reporters from the publication straight up heard Oczkowski say he’s working for Trump:
The AP learned of Data Propria’s role in Trump’s re-election effort as a result of conversations held with political contacts and prospective clients in recent weeks by Oczkowski. In one such conversation, which took place in a public place and was overheard by two AP reporters, Oczkowski said he and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, were “doing the president’s work for 2020.”
That’s a fitting way for former members of Cambridge Analytica to have their plans outed. Somewhat lost in the all the hubbub about the firm collecting Facebook user data without consent was the Channel 4 undercover investigation that showed executives from the company bragging about partaking in blackmail and bribery in private. When it comes to keeping secrets, this is not a particularly skilled group of people.
Brad Parscale, the digital strategist for Trump in 2016 and the head of his 2020 campaign, also denied Data Propria’s involvement in re-election efforts. But, as the AP points out, Parscale does have financial links to Data Propria—he’s a part owner of the firm’s parent company, Cloud Commerce, which bought up his digital marketing business last August. Parscale is on the Cloud Commerce board of directors, and he has motivation to get Data Propria involved in Trump’s campaign: a big contract for the company results in money back in his own pocket.