NEWS21 August 2018

Cambridge Analytica parent company boss says he lacked ‘ethical radar’

Behavioural science Data analytics Media News Privacy Public Sector Technology UK

UK – Nigel Oakes, the founder of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, has said he operated without "much of an ethical radar" for years and called for greater regulation of the data analytics industry.

Cracked phone screen showing Facebook logo alonsgide laptop and glasses

In his first interview since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the company was accused of improperly harvesting the personal data of Facebook users, Oakes compared the behavioural methodology used at SCL to a gun, discussing how it could be weaponised to get results. 

He said: “We’ve developed a gun that works. And should it be regulated? Yes, it should, very much so. Now is the time regulation should come in, just as you would regulate gun sales.”

Discussing his background as founder of the Behavioural Dynamics Institute and later SCL (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories), Oakes admitted: “For many years I operated without much of an ethical radar because I was just so impressed we’d got something that actually worked, in an environment where so much didn’t.”

He added that he was proud that the company had “created something that works”, but that he didn’t want it to be used for unethical purposes.

He was being interviewed by Verbalisation chief executive Sven Hughes for The Truth Trade, a new podcast pushing for more transparency and accountability in what it terms ‘the international influence industry’. Prior interviewees include Tim Bell, formerly chief executive at Bell Pottinger, and Alexander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin advisor.

Oakes also said that the Cambridge Analytica situation has raised a lot of “big questions about ethics and morals”, but that these questions need to be addressed by companies “much bigger than Cambridge Analytica”.

However, he also claimed: “Cambridge Analytica was vilified by the Guardian because people ticked a box saying that data could be used from their friends, exactly that clause is on the Guardian website when you join the Guardian.”

Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections filed for insolvency in May.