Cambridge Analytica files for bankruptcy amidst “siege” of negative attention

Cambridge Analytica LLC, the American arm of the London-based data analytics firm of the same name, filed for bankruptcy in federal court in New York on Friday.

The company submitted a voluntary formal petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy—liquidation. That document reveals the company has between $1 and $10 million in debt with very little assets.

 On May 2, SCL Elections Ltd. and its other British affiliates filed similar “insolvency” documents with UK authorities.

It was revealed last month that a 2014 survey app created at the behest of Cambridge Analytica required Facebook login credentials and provided the survey creator access to their friends’ public profile data. In the end, this system captured data from 87 million Facebook users. This data trove wound up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, the British data analytics firm, which worked with clients like the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

NBC News reported Friday that the company’s May 2 shutdown hit employees abruptly, with many remaining employees filing out of their Fifth Avenue office in Manhattan directly to a nearby Irish pub.

“You know how people go through the stages of grief? This was acceptance,” a former executive said. “You could kind of see the writing on the wall, but most people never thought it was going to be total bankruptcy.”

In a May 2 statement on its website, Cambridge Analytica maintains that it did nothing wrong and that “despite the Company’s efforts to correct the record, [it] has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas.”

The company describes the global media coverage as a “siege” that has “driven [away] virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers. As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the Company into administration.”

The Friday court document also notes that the attorney preparing the filing was paid for by Emerdata, a new data analytics firm founded by many of the same people who were formerly involved in Cambridge Analytica. Emerdata, like Cambridge Analytica, is largely funded by the Mercer family, who are well-known Republican donors and Trump supporters. Rebekah Mercer was named as a director to Emerdata in March 2018. What exactly Emerdata does or how it will operate going forward remains a bit of a mystery.

Curious creditors

The new bankruptcy filing lists 33 creditors—or entities that Cambridge Analytica owes money to. This group not only includes companies (Verizon Wireless) and law firms, but, curiously, various public entities including the Federal Election Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), among others.

“As one of multiple government investigators listed in the bankruptcy filing as a creditor (including the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Election Commission), the Senate Commerce Committee has an outstanding request for information from Cambridge Analytica,” emailed Frederick Hill, a Thune spokesman.

Thune is the head of the Senate Commerce Committee, which recently held hearings on the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook debacle. The committee obviously does not provide commercial services or charge for those non-existent services.

Few of the other public entities listed above immediately responded to Ars’ inquiries.

“We can’t comment,” Judith Ingram, an FEC spokeswoman, emailed Ars. Ingram added that she was not aware of the agency commonly turning up as a creditor in bankruptcy proceedings.

Stephen Spaulding, the chief of strategy at advocacy group Common Cause and a former special counsel at the FEC, told Ars that he guessed that listing was because of a pending legal complaint brought to the FEC.

“The reason they would be listed in a bankruptcy would be that this pending legal action might leave them exposed legally and maybe that’s why it has to be disclosed,” he said. “Why they’re listed as a creditor would be a question for a bankruptcy lawyer.”

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