The Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have put to bed any suggestions that they had contacted or made use of big data firm Cambridge Analytica in the run-up to last year’s general election.
Rumours that Cambridge Analytica had a hand in the election have long been doing the rounds and reports have even surfaced that the data firm’s CEO Alexander Nix was spotted on the island in the run-up to the election. Back in September, late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia said that the Labour government had used Cambridge Analytica’s advice to get Adrian Delia elected as PN leader and hence destroy the Nationalist Party from within.
Lovin Malta had asked Cambridge Analytica a few weeks ago whether it had been approached by or helped a Maltese political party in any way, but was told that such information was commercially sensitive.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix
However, both main parties have categorically distanced themselves from such suggestions.
“We have never met with any representative from Cambridge Analytica or any similar company, or with anyone claiming to be their representative,” the Prime Minister’s communications chief Kurt Farrugia told MaltaToday. “We’ve never ever even made any contact.”
Farrugia also dismissed as “pure fiction” a report by journalist-blogger Manuel Delia that Labour had secretly used a Facebook racing game to harvest data – a tactic employed by Cambridge Analytica – in the run-up to the 2015 MEP and local council elections.
A PN spokesperson similarly denied suggestions that the party had approached or used Cambridge Analytica, and former leader Simon Busuttil told LovinMalta that the party had never even approached by the big data firm.
Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whsitleblower Christopher Wylie
“I double checked with my former head of office [Matthew Gatt] and secretary general [Rosette Thake] and both denied it,” Busutitl said. “I also double-checked my emails just in case and couldn’t find any reference to Cambridge Analytica at all. We had been approached by PR lobbying companies but never by data mining companies. I consider such direct targeting of voters through their psychological mindsets to be in clear breach of their privacy and perhaps even of the law.”
Busuttil added he wouldn’t be surprised if Labour had enlisted the aid of a data mining company to spread disinformation during the election campaign, arguing that it had the financial means to do so and that certain social media posts by government employees seemed “planted”.
Christopher Wylie, a data analytics expert and former Cambridge Analytica employee, recently blew the whistle on his former company, telling The Observer how it had used the Facebook data of US voters to profile them and micro-target them with political adverts in favour of Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica had bought this data from Global Science Research, which had in turn gained it from a personality quiz app that was ostensibly gathering data for academic research.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News later showed that Cambridge Analytica’s operations go beyond Facebook data harvesting, with its employees – including Nix – filmed saying they could entrap their clients’ rival politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukranian prostitutes.