Yesterday, it was reported that Cambridge Analytica, the Trump-connected data-mining firm that improperly accessed Facebook data of 87 million people, was shutting down. But "shutting down" may not mean much — many of that company's principal players are associated with a new data company called Emerdata.
What is Emerdata?
Emerdata was incorporated in the UK in August 2017 and registered under the same address as Cambridge Analytica in London's Canary Wharf. The board of directors includes Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, daughters of the hedge-fund billionaire and primary Cambridge Analytica investor Robert Mercer. Both were appointed to the board on March 15.
Alexander Nix, the Cambridge Analytica CEO who was suspended after he was taped boasting that the firm employed bribery and extortion on political candidates, was originally listed as a director of Emerdata. But he resigned on March 28 and was replaced by Alex Tayler, Cambridge Analytica's chief data officer and acting CEO.
Nix had also registered a company called Firecrest Technologies but resigned and was replaced there by Tayler on March 7.
On Medium, journalist Wendy Siegelman compiled an org chart of Emerdata, illustrating how several of the Cambridge Analytica principals are involved. They include Julian Wheatland, chairman of Cambridge Analytica parent firm SCL Group, and Trump supporter Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater and brother-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
On March 23, the UK's Channel 4 News reported that Emerdata was set up to acquire Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group, according to Nigel Oakes, founder of SCL. In the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Oakes said that both SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica were "closing down."
The timing of the "shutdown" may have something to do with ongoing hearings in the UK's Parliament about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and whether the company helped bad actors interfere in the Brexit referendum. On Wednesday, a data expert testified that Cambridge Analytica used psychological insights derived from Facebook in the Trump campaign.
Also on Wednesday, Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr shared a screenshot of a legal letter the Guardian had been sent by Cambridge Analytica earlier in the year, which stated that the company had "no employees and very few assets" — that it was, in essence, a shell company.
In addition to primarily funding Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer funds the Make American #1 PAC, which paid Cambridge Analytica $1.5 million during 2015 and 2016. In March, the Washington Post reported that future presidential adviser and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica's data collection and had tested Trump slogans such as "drain the swamp" and "deep state" well before Trump deployed them during the campaign.