A Brazilian consulting firm announced on Tuesday the suspension of its partnership with Cambridge Analytica following recent reports of the firm's exploitation of Facebook data.
The firm, formerly known as CA Ponte, will now revert to being called "A Ponte Estratégia," or "The Bridge Strategy," dropping the British company's initials from its name. The deal between the two companies, which began in 2017, was meant to be Cambridge's foothold inside Brazil, where this year's elections — which will jockey for the attention of 147 million voters amid a presidential race, state government elections, and vacancies in state and national legislatures — is one of the largest markets for data analysis companies this year.
The firm had negotiated a contract with the national Brazilian Social Democracy Party at the end of last year, BuzzFeed News has learned, but the party, then chaired by Tasso Jereissati, didn't finalize the deal.
Cambridge Analytica has been in hot water since recent reports first said it had secretly gathered information from millions of Facebook users' data for use in election campaigns, such as Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign in the United States and the Brexit race in the UK.
Adding to their troubles, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News in the UK showed two of the company's executives telling a reporter — who was pretending to be a potential customer from Sri Lanka — that they use tactics such as bribes and spreading false news to influence the elections where they're hired. While being secretly recorded, the executives listed the various countries where the company has worked, adding, "Now we are going to Brazil."
The partnership between the two firms was one that Cambridge Analytica first proposed, according to Ponte's statement on the suspension of the deal.
"The main criterion for local partners looking to hire CA was local expertise," the statement from Ponte said. "Ponte's interest was to seek complementary knowledge in the data area."
André Torretta, the president of the Brazilian firm, is known as a pioneer in specialized consulting among Brazil's C-suite business leaders. He is also the founder of Data Popular, a research institute dedicated to studying the habits of CEOs and other executives.
He has also taken part in political campaigns in the past. In an interview in Folha de S.Paulo in January, he said he would not campaign "to extremes."
In its statement on the suspension of the partnership, Ponte denied any knowledge of any illegal conduct by Cambridge Analytica. (Cambridge Analytica for its part has denied any wrongdoing.)
"This weekend, we received the news that CA would be receiving a complaint from Facebook regarding the use of its data. It is important to say that the situation did not happen in Brazil," said a statement from the Brazilian company. "However, Ponte has decided not to renew the partnership with CA, until everything has been clarified."
Ponte also noted that it had been difficult to make Cambridge Analytica's methods work in Brazil, leading the company to "develop its own method of segmentation and channel management, taking into account the culture and behavior of the Brazilian."
It added, "Ponte is keen to make it clear that in 10 years of acting, we have always been guided by ethics and transparency in our business."
This post was translated from Portuguese.