Ex-Cambridge Analytica chief feels 'victimized' after Facebook data scandal

Alexander Nix oscillates between regret and recriminations as he gives evidence to UK Parliament.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
Screenshot/Katie Collins

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix told British politicians on Wednesday that he'd been the victim of entrapment and that the media had misrepresented the work of his company.

A Channel 4 documentary that aired in March showed Nix offering to entrap politicians in compromising positions in order to influence the outcome of elections. He even suggested he had previously used Ukrainian sex workers as honeytraps. "I find that works very well," he was shown as saying.

But Nix now says it was "hyperbole" and "a lie" that he had used such tactics in the past.

"We were just telling the client what we thought he wanted to hear," said Nix. "It's something I regret enormously because of the damage it did to the company."

In spite of these regrets, he said that the footage was heavily edited and that the conversation was steered by an undercover reporter trying to entrap him. "They deliberately seeded questions to elicit certain answers," he said.

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Channel 4 on Wednesday disputed Nix's version of events.

Channel 4 News

Nix gave evidence to the UK Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a second time this week after Cambridge Analytica was drawn into the scandal involving Facebook user data. He was recalled after the committee heard evidence from other witnesses that raised questions about the accuracy of Nix's testimony.

Nix said he didn't deliberately mislead the committee, even as he admitted that Cambridge Analytica did receive Facebook user data from researcher Aleksandr Kogan -- something he'd previously denied. He thought the committee had originally asked him whether Cambridge Analytica still had the data, he said.

He maintained that Cambridge Analytica had played no part in the 2016 Brexit referendum. "It is deeply troubling that this conspiracy theory has gained such traction," he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, a report in the Financial Times also suggested Nix took $8 million from Cambridge Analytica. He denied this during the hearing.

Nix took the opportunity to defend himself and his company and point the finger elsewhere -- primarily at the media (Channel 4 in particular) and at former employees who he claimed had axes to grind. The media's representation of Cambridge Analytica, which shut down at the beginning of May, as a large and powerful multinational was wrong, he said.

"The truth is we are a very small advertising agency that happens to work across a number of sectors, one of which is political campaigns," he said. "Most of our time is spent selling toothpaste and automotive and things like that."

Nix also honed in on evidence provided to press and to the committee by whistleblower and former Cambridge Analytica contractor Chris Wylie, which he said comprised "90 percent" of the media's accusations against him. Wylie was trying to start a rival company without him and pitch the idea to Silicon Valley investors. He characterized Wylie as "resentful" as well as "bitter and jealous."

Wylie did not immediately respond to request for comment.  And Channel 4 on Wednesday disputed Nix's version of events. "We absolutely disagree and reject Mr. Nix's allegation that Channel 4 News "heavily edited" the undercover footage to portray him and Cambridge Analytica "in the worst possible light." We've included Channel 4's full statement above. 

Committee Chair Damian Collins dismissed the idea saying Wylie's evidence was based around documents he had provided, not opinions. "That's what we're basing our questions on," he said. "Evidence that you do not dispute."

At one point, Member of Parliament Brendan O'Hara told Nix that he was attempting to paint himself as the victim when he wasn't one. "What happened if I was the victim?" he said. "If you were sitting where I'm sitting right now, you'd probably feel quite victimized."

On one occasion, Nix was reprimanded by O'Hara for "rudeness and bluster." But the MPs' frustrations were not reserved solely for the ousted CEO.

"We also feel Facebook were not open and honest with the committee with the answers they gave," Collins said, referring to an evidence session attended by Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer.

Collins has repeatedly requested that the company's CEO Mark Zuckerberg submit to questioning by the committee, but the Facebook chief has rejected the offer on several occasions.

Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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