Links to disgraced data mining firm Cambridge Analytica has forced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to go on the defensive as general elections loom
The Malaysian government has denied claims that it engaged Cambridge Analytica to work on its political campaign in the run-up to the country’s 13th General Election in 2013, after employees of the UK-based data firm were secretly recorded by Channel 4 News saying that they had used shell companies to sway election outcomes in Malaysia, Mexico and Brazil.
“Contrary to media reports, neither Cambridge Analytica nor its parent company SCL Group have ever – now or in the past – been contracted, employed or paid in any way by Barisan Nasional, the Prime Minister’s Office or any part of the Government of Malaysia,” the office of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak announced on Tuesday.
According to Cambridge Analytica’s website, it helped Barisan Nasional (BN), the country’s ruling coalition, wrest back control of Kedah State from the opposition by using “a targeted messaging campaign highlighting [BN’s] school improvements since 2008”.
While Najib’s office didn’t directly deny that the firm had carried out such work, they distanced themselves from the scandal by claiming that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories said that “Cambridge Analytica’s advice on the 2013 general election was provided personally to Mukhriz Mahathir,” who at the time worked for the ruling party but is now part of the opposition led by his 92-year-old father Mahathir Mohamad.
“The SCL representative also confirmed that he reported directly to Mukhriz Mahathir, not BN or the government,” the prime minister’s office added.
Mukhriz, however, denied the allegations.
“I categorically deny any contact with Cambridge Analytica at any time,” he told Reuters, adding that he didn’t receive analysis, data or advice from the firm.
Cambridge Analytica, which also boasts of working on successful political campaigns in Indonesia and Thailand, is currently being investigated by a British parliamentary committee after the New York Times and the Guardian revealed that the company had mined the personal information of 50 million Facebook users without their permission.
The data was used to create psychological profiles of users, which enabled Cambridge Analytica to more effectively target them with political ads.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie told the Observer. “That was the basis the entire company was built on.”