Cambridge Analytica Associate Severs Mexico Ties After Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- A Latin American mobile app that Cambridge Analytica had hoped to use to mine data for Mexican presidential campaigns has severed ties with the embattled political-advertising firm after the Facebook Inc. data scandal erupted.

Pig.gi, which gives 1.2 million users in Mexico and Colombia free airtime and data in exchange for watching ads and taking surveys, says it’s never worked on a political campaign with Cambridge. The startup did share results on two election polls and occasional aggregated data on non-political preferences, but said it does so with other partners as well.

“In light of the recent allegations, we have taken steps to formally, completely end any kind of commercial relationship with them,” Pig.gi founder and Chief Executive Officer Joel Phillips told Bloomberg. “Obviously, if we could look back and see how this would progress, we would have said ‘no, this is probably not the best people to take money from.’”

The data firm that helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump is caught up in investigations in several countries after allegedly obtaining the private data of 50 million Facebook users, triggering a backlash from consumers around the globe. The furor spread to Mexico when Cambridge executives bragged to hidden cameras from Britain’s Channel 4 that they operated in the country.

Cambridge told Bloomberg last summer it was scouting for a Mexican presidential candidate whose campaign it could join ahead of July elections. Then-vice president of business development, Brittany Kaiser, told Bloomberg she hoped to use data mined from Pig.gi to help a Mexican candidate and client. But in December, the executive said Cambridge was just managing commercial clients in Latin America and was no longer seeking political customers. Kaiser, who has left the consultancy, declined to comment.

Debate over Cambridge’s activity in Mexico has become front-page news in a country that’s immersed in a contentious election, and where corruption scandals, vote-buying accusations and reports of spying have long been part of the landscape. Local media have sought to uncover whether the big-data firm worked with Mexican political parties. Lorenzo Cordova, who heads Mexican electoral regulator INE, said Wednesday he has no knowledge of Cambridge’s domestic operations.

“They probably had a lot of ambitions to do a lot of things, but as far as I know I don’t know if anything ever materialized,” said Pig.gi’s Phillips. He stressed that no personal data would ever have found its way to Cambridge. The data firm’s plans to develop algorithms for Pig.gi, or to acquire information about candidates, never panned out, he added.

Phillips acknowledged Cambridge still holds about 1 percent of Pig.gi. His brother and co-founder Isaac said however the app had decided to stop publishing presidential poll results in Mexico and Colombia, after discovering it needed to register with regulators to do so.

“We don’t want to get involved in politics,” Phillips said. Politics “in Latin America is very divisive, very explosive here, potentially.”

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