Alexander Nix, 42, was the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, a company that has come under intense scrutiny for possibly mining Facebook data against Facebook’s terms. And now Nix is in the spotlight even more, after Channel 4 in London released undercover videos showing Nix talking about underhanded methods that Cambridge Analytica may use during campaigns, including sending girls to candidates’ houses. CA suspended Nix on Tuesday, effective immediately, and is launching an investigation into whether the company did any wrongdoing.
Cambridge Analytica is also being investigated because its data may have, in part, been used to help President Donald Trump’s campaign. The data analysis firm also came under scrutiny for possibly hiring non-American citizens to work on American election campaigns, The Guardian reported, among other issues that are being investigated.
As part of his investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested the firm turn over internal documents. Nix is also the Director of SCL Group (SCL is short for Strategic Communications Laboratories), a private communication company that formed Cambridge Analytica specifically for working on elections in the U.S. Nix is a highly private person who tries not to share much about his personal life with the media, an interesting preference considering the focus of his business is mining data to create psychological profiles. Here is everything you need to know about Alexander Nix.
1. Undercover Interviews Revealed Nix and Other Cambridge Analytica Employees Discussing Shady Practices to Help Clients’ Campaigns, Including Sending Girls to Opponents’ Homes
Channel 4 reporters posed as prospective clients and secretly recorded interviews with employees of Cambridge Analytica about their business practices, including Alexander Nix, Financial Times reported. Financial Times said that CA was trying to prevent the report from airing on London’s Channel 4, and that wouldn’t be the first time. Carole Cadwalladr, a reporter for The Guardian, said that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica threatened to sue The Guardian to prevent its recent story about CA from publishing. Channel 4 released the report on Monday, which shows secret recordings with senior CA executives, including Nix. The films were made between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover Channel 4 reporter posed as a wealthy client looking for help with Sri Lanka campaigns.
In the secret interviews, Nix said the firm campaigns in elections across the world and operates through a series of shadow front companies or through sub-contractors, Channel 4 reported. They try to dig up dirt on opponents of their clients. Nix said they sometimes “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” and those Ukrainian girls are “very beautiful, I find that works well.”
He said that they also offer large amounts of money to a candidate, offering to finance a campaign in exchange for land or other favors. They record the offers, blank out the face of their employee, and post the video online. Channel 4 pointed out that offering bribes to public officials violates the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Nix also said that CA may set up fake IDs and websites for clients who don’t want to be seen working with a foreign company, Channel 4 reported. “We can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at.”
A CA spokesman said in response to the recordings: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honey-traps’ for any purpose whatsoever… We routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions… Cambridge Analytica does not use untrue material for any purpose.”
2. Alexander Nix Was a Financial Analyst Before Moving to Behavioral Products
Alexander James Ashburner Nix was born May 1, 1975 and grew up in London’s Notting Hill. He was educated at Eton College and Manchester University, according to his bio. He studied the history of art at Manchester. He began working as a financial analyst with Baring Securities in Mexico. Then he moved on to Robert Fraser & Partners LLP, a finance and tax advisory firm in the U.K. In 2003, he became director of the SCL Group, focusing on behavioral products and services. In 2007, he began focusing on elections and opened offices in Washington D.C. and Delhi, expanding his global staff to more than 300 employees. He has worked on political campaigns across the world. The Huffington Post described him as not being a data scientist but “a showy salesman.” “He is in his element on stage making presentations at large conferences.”
In 2010, Nix opened SCL Social, a not-for-profit agency focused on using SCL’s behavioral strategies for humanitarian and health projects. A gallery here shows an interior design company working on pieces for his “bachelor flat” in London. In 2016, he was named one of “25 Geniuses Who Are Creating the Future of Business” by Wired Magazine.
According to Company Check, Nix has Director positions at SCL Elections Limited, SCL Social Limited, SCL Commercial Limited, Cambridge Analytica (UK), SCL Sovereign Limited (now dissolved), SCL Digital Limited (now dissolved), SCL Analytics Limited, SCL Group Limited, Emerdata Limited (appointed in January 2018), Firecrest Technologies Limited (appointed in March 2018.) Emerdata is described as working in “data processing, hosting, and related activities.” The company was incorporated on August 11, 2017.
When The Canberra Times set up an interview with Nix to profile him, he bristled at first when the reporter asked about his childhood and his education, saying he thought he was only giving a business interview. “I think I’ve wasted your time… I’m quite a private person. I don’t think it’s necessarily in my best interests to share my life with other people. I’m sorry about that. But I’m just feeling uncomfortable about this. I don’t think that I want to be the story.” When the reporter protested that it was ironic considering his business, Nix said that talking about his personal life was more intrusive, and that subjects like his favorite breakfast wouldn’t be relevant. He loosened up a little later in the interview and shared more details. He collects art, he said, and supports the London artist Hormazd Narielwalla. “When I get spare time, I will frequently try to find a museum or a gallery.”
3. Since He’s British, He Could Not Legally Work on Cambridge Analytica’s U.S. Campaigns
A lawyer sent a memo to Steve Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, and Alexander Nix warning about U.S. election law that prohibits non-Americans from working on American election campaigns, The Guardian reported. That included Nix, who is British. The memo read, in part: “To the extent you are aware of foreign nationals providing services, including polling and marketing, it would appear that unless it is being done through US citizens, or foreign nationals with green cards, the activity would violate the law… In order for Cambridge to engage in such activities, Mr Nix would first have to be recused from substantive management of any such clients involved in US elections.”
The Guardian said that employees told them that Cambridge Analytica ignored that warning. Cambridge Analytica told The Guardian that Nix had not violated the law. “He has never had a strategic or operational role on any election campaigns undertaken in the U.S.”
Nix told TechCrunch in late 2017 that he planned to write a book about Cambridge Analytica’s methods, and the working title was “Mad Men to Maths Men.” The book will come out in Germany first, with a German publisher, and then it will be published in the U.K. and internationally.
4. Alexander Nix Reached Out to Julian Assange Before the November 2016 Election
Julian Assange confirmed in a tweet in October 2017 that Cambridge Analytica had contacted him before the election, and the company’s request was denied.
We now know that Alexander Nix was the person who reached out to Assange, but the nature of his request is still debated. The Daily Beast reported that Nix reached out to Assange in an email about the missing 33,000 emails. Two sources said that he wanted to see if Cambridge Analytica could help WikiLeaks release the missing emails, but the request was turned down. However, a report from The Wall Street Journal indicated that Nix’s message, sent in August 2016, was actually about helping with the DNC and Podesta emails that WikiLeaks released. Nix told employees in an email that he had reached out to Assange to offer help with indexing messages that WikiLeaks was planning to release, in order to help the messages be more easily searchable. Nix said in his email that he did not hear back from Assange, but Assange said that he turned Nix down. Assange did not clarify what the offer was, he simply tweeted later: “We have confirmed the approach and rejection only. Not the subject.”
5. Nix & Cambridge Analytica Focus on Using Personality Metrics to Frame a Message So It Resonates with Specific Groups
Nix explained in 2016 that the company probes “the underlying traits that inform personality.” He added: “If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key groups.” Vox pointed out that so far, most of the firm’s clients have been Republican, including Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. The company also mined data for the Brexit campaign. (However, Nix denies that CA had any involvement with Brexit.) Nix said the company has “close to 4 or 5 thousand data points on every adult in the U.S.”
This is apparently part of what Cambridge Analytica was doing on Facebook that brought it under scrutiny.
Cambridge Analytica has come under scrutiny for its mining of Facebook data about people in America and the U.S., which was used to create personality and political profiles for politicians and others. Allegations say that the profiles were, in part, used to help President Donald Trump’s campaign. An app called “thisisyourdigitallife” created personality quizzes that were, at least in part, taken by people who were paid on platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. By taking the quizzes, their information and their Facebook friends’ data was shared. It’s important to point out that this method of mining Facebook data is actually part of each app’s Terms of Service and is not unusual. Almost any quiz that you take on Facebook will include a TOS that says you agree to share information about yourself and your friends. These broad terms of service have come under fire before, however. The use of this data has been discussed in media articles since at least 2015. Here’s one story about the privacy concerns from last year.
On March 16, 2018, Facebook wrote a statement explaining why it decided to suspend Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from Facebook. Yes, they said, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, who created the app, did use the app in a legitimate way. However, he described the app as “a research app used by psychologists.” He then violated Facebook’s terms by passing the information on to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. When Facebook learned of that violation in 2015, they removed the app and demanded certifications that all the data was destroyed, which he provided. Facebook found out this month that all the data may not have been deleted, thus leading to the suspension. They are investigating those claims. Cambridge Analytica, meanwhile, says that they followed all of Facebook’s terms and deleted all the data it received from Global Research Science when it learned they weren’t complying with the terms. Cambridge has stated that none of GSR’s data was used for Trump’s campaign.
In an interview with TechCrunch in late 2017, Nix said that although “psychographic targeting” was used for Carson and Cruz’s primaries, by the time they got to Trump’s campaign, there wasn’t time to use surveys. And Trump’s campaign’s infrastructure was too small. There was “baked-in” psychographic data from previous work, but no “long form quantitative psychographics survey” done for Trump. In his interview, he didn’t comment on claims that the company had harvested Facebook data, but did say the data was built on surveys of more than 10,000 people. CA was hired by Trump’s campaign, he said, because no other usual supplier would touch the candidate. They ended up taking over Trump’s data analytics, research, TV, digital, and even donations.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 revealed that Cambridge Analytica was more involved in Trump’s campaign than some had though. They said their data research allowed Trump to win a margin of 40,000 votes in three states, which helped him win the electoral election despite losing the popular vote. Senior executives discussed putting out positive messages about Trump while also putting out negative material about others, which was pushed through outside organizations not associated with CA. Turnbull said that CA created a “Defeat Crooked Hillary” series of ads funded by a super-PAC called Make America Number 1. The company insisted there was a strict firewall between work they did for PACs and work they did for Trump’s political campaign.
Nix, however, said that CA has a self-destructing email system called ProtonMail that leaves no trace. He later said that the House Intel Committee members he talked to were “not technical.” “They don’t understand how it works,” he said.
Nix also referred to political candidates as “puppets.” “They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.”
Cambridge Analytica also denies any involvement in helping Trump win. A spokesman said: “CA has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd. We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”