Cambridge Analytica, the embattled British data firm at the center of a privacy scandal, suddenly shut down all of its U.S. offices on Wednesday, Gizmodo is reporting. The news was announced in a Wednesday conference call with Julian Wheatland, who had been scheduled to become the company’s new CEO.
Following the conference call, workers in the Arlington, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and New York City offices were told to clear out their desks and turn in their employee I.D. Badges. What will happen to employees in London remains unclear (as of this writing, it’s after 7:00 p.m. in London, hours after the regular work day has ended for most British office workers).
According to documents obtained by the tech-industry website, workers in the company’s U.S. offices have suspected for some time that they would soon be getting pink slips. They’ve known for a while that a conference call would be coming – and indeed, it’s been scheduled and re-scheduled a couple of times. And they’ve suspected that whatever they learned in that conference call, it wasn’t going to be good.
Screenshots of the company’s internal communications system, obtained by Gizmodo, show a “darkly comic” sort of acceptance about the company’s impending fate. One employee shared his Spotify playlist, which includes songs like “High and Dry” by Radiohead, “The End” by The Doors, and “Help!” by The Beatles. Another employee posted a screenshot from the movie Titanic showing the ship’s band gamely playing on while the vessel sinks.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) May 2, 2018
Until a few years ago, few people outside the data-collection industry had ever heard of the British company. However, as The Guardian reported in April 2018, the company became the center of an international scandal when it was revealed that it had “improperly accessed” the data of up to 87 million Facebook users. What’s more, that data was allegedly used to influence voter opinion by politicians, such as United States Senator Ted Cruz, who had hired them (as The Guardian reported in 2016).
So big was the scandal that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was brought before Congress to testify about how the social media giant will protect users’ privacy moving forward.
According to Wheatland, too much damage has been done to the company to move forward. The firm has been losing clients, he said, and will likely never recover from the data scandal.
On Wednesday afternoon, SCL Group founder Nigel Oakes confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that SCL Group, an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, will also be shutting down. However, as of this writing, it is unclear if employees in either company’s London offices have been officially notified.