A three-year investigation by U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has concluded that digital advertising firm Cambridge Analytica did not influence the country’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
In 2018, reports surfaced that Cambridge Analytica gained access to data on Facebook users without their consent, which the firm then utilized to target certain them with pro-Brexit ads. The company was also accused of collaborating with Russia to increase support among Britons for leaving the E.U.
Delham’s investigation into the alleged wrongdoing led to the collapse of Cambridge Analytica. The Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s independent data privacy watchdog, fined Facebook and pro-Brexit groups Vote Leave and Leave.EU over the allegations.
However, Denham’s investigation concluded that Cambridge Analytica was not involved in the Brexit vote “beyond some initial enquiries made…in the early stages.”
“I identified no significant breaches of the privacy and electronic marketing regulations and data protection legislation that met the threshold for formal regulatory action,” Delham wrote in her findings. “We did not find any additional evidence of Russian involvement in our analysis of material contained in the [Cambridge Analytica] servers we obtained.”
The reports of a data breach at Facebook in connection with Cambridge Analytica caused widespread consternation, with Facebook admitting that the firm compromised data of 87 million users. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called before Congress to testify regarding the breach.
Accusations of Russian use of Facebook in U.S. elections have also been found lacking. In an internal memo sent on December 30, 2020, a top Facebook executive wrote that President Trump did not win the 2016 elections because of a Russian influence campaign.
“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes,” the executive said of the Trump campaign’s efforts. “They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person.”