UK authorities with the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the offices of Cambridge Analytica, a shady election-data firm that allegedly partnered with an app to take advantage of mile-wide loopholes in Facebook policies and run off with 50 million users’ data, on Friday.
Per the AP, the much-awaited raid took place after a High Court judge granted a warrant earlier in the day. Investigators took about seven hours to comb through the firm’s offices, concluding at 3am local time, and have not yet released any findings. Per the Guardian, a team of about 18 investigators was seen gaining entry to the company’s London headquarters, “led by a woman holding a piece of paper that appeared to be a warrant.”
Per the Guardian, authorities were looking for correspondence between Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL Group, and Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, whose app “thisisyourdigitallife” allegedly harvested the 50 million profiles. Kogan’s app reportedly accomplished this by collecting data on the Facebook friends of some 270,000 people who downloaded it, something formally in violation of Facebook policy but also right in line with the social media giant’s long history of privacy violations.
The paper also reported investigators sought to determine whether the data remained in Cambridge Analytica’s possession despite the company’s repeated insistence it had been deleted, though that task may have been made more difficult given the four days that passed before the warrant was approved.
“We will now need to assess and consider the evidence before deciding the next steps and coming to any conclusions,” an ICO spokesperson told the Guardian. “... This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data and analytics for political purposes.”
Cambridge Analytica suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, earlier this week after video leaked of him bragging to undercover Channel 4 reporters that tactics used by his staff during elections could include bribery, extortion, and sex work—though the company has used the implausible excuse that Nix was actually vetting what he thought were potential clients for honesty. Acting CEO Alexander Tayler has stuck to the party line, insisting that any of the data the firm received was deleted and not used in its subsequent work on other campaigns like now-President Donald Trump’s 2016 run.
Nix had repeatedly insisted that Cambridge Analytica did no paid or unpaid work related to the Brexit campaign, which ended in the UK’s (almost certainly disastrous) decision to leave the European Union. On Friday, the firm’s ex-business development director Brittany Kaiser challenged that account and said Cambridge Analytica had in fact performed several weeks’ work for Leave.EU, but that Leave.EU had skipped out on the contract after one phase of work was complete.