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CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

A 4-month undercover investigation conducted by the UK's Channel 4 News revealed that Cambridge Analytica says it has secretly campaigned in more than 200 elections around the world, using shady tactics that include bribery and prostitution in order to entrap politicians in compromising situations. The company says they "entirely refute" the allegations.

Why it matters: Cambridge Analytica worked for Donald Trump's campaign during the 2016 presidential elections, and is at the center of a controversy for its role in harvesting data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles. Facebook announced Monday that it has hired a digital forensics firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the company.

A Channel 4 reporter, posing as a fixer for a client working on elections in Sri Lanka, secretly filmed Cambridge Analytica's chief executive Alexander Nix as he described some of the tactics the firm employs:

  • “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”
  • Nix also said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”
  • “…Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company… so often we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”
  • Another CA executive, Mark Turnbull, discussed how the firm pushes damaging material onto social media: “… we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”

Statement from Cambridge Analytica to Channel 4:

“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…”

What's next: Part three of Channel 4's documentary on Cambridge Analytica will air tomorrow at 3pm ET, and will reportedly focus on the firm's work in the U.S.

Go deeper

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN on Thursday for their first joint interview since the election.

The big picture: In the hour-long segment, the twosome laid out plans for responding to the pandemic, jump-starting the economy and managing the transition of power, among other priorities.

The quick FCC fix that would get more students online

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the pandemic forces students out of school, broadband deployment programs aren't going to move fast enough to help families in immediate need of better internet access. But Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission say the incoming Biden administration could put a dent in that digital divide with one fast policy change.

State of play: An existing FCC program known as E-rate provides up to $4 billion for broadband at schools, but Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai has resisted modifying the program during the pandemic to provide help connecting students at home.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

America's hidden depression

Biden introduces his pick for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Dec. 1. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Biden faces a fragile recovery that could easily fall apart, as the economy remains in worse shape than most people think.

Why it matters: There is a recovery happening. But it's helping some people immensely and others not at all. And it's that second part that poses a massive risk to the Biden-Harris administration's chance of success.