The founder of Cambridge Analytica's parent company admits he lacked an 'ethical radar'

  • Nigel Oakes, the founder of Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL Group, said in an interview that he operated "without much of an ethical radar."
  • He said the industry of data mining requires regulation, but had no concrete suggestions for how this might be enforced.
  • Oakes also praised former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who was previously his partner at SCL.

Nigel Oakes, the founder of Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL Group, has spoken out about the ethical problems around data mining.

Nigel Oakes founded SCL in 2005, and spoke about his experience on "The Truth Trade" podcast in what it is one of the first in-depth interviews with a Cambridge Analytica executive since the Facebook data scandal.

15 PHOTOS
Cambridge Analytica scandal
See Gallery
Cambridge Analytica scandal
A man fixes posters depicting Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, with the slogan 'Our Data Not His. Go Straight To Jail' to the entrance of the company's offices in central London on March 20, 2018. The European Parliament on Tuesday invited Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to speak following revelations that a firm working for Donald Trump's US presidential campaign harvested data on 50 million users. Facebook has faced worldwide criticism over the claims that Cambridge Analytica, the UK data analysis firm hired by Trump's 2016 campaign, harvested and misused data on 50 million members. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone in front of a computer screen showing a Facebook logo on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A protester called Heiko Khoo sticks posters of Alexander Nix behind bars onto the windows of the offices in a demonstration against Cambridge Analytica on March 20, 2018 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, arrives at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man wheels storage crates from the building that houses the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
HOLBORN, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: Chief executive of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix arrives at the office near Holborn on March 20, 2018 in Holborn, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Oakes told the host Sven Hughes that when he got into data analytics, ethics were far from his mind. Here's his quote in full, emphasis ours:

"It's above my pay grade to decide the ethics of this. I'm proud that I've got something that we've developed that works. I don't want it to be used for negative reasons and non-ethical purposes and maybe using it for commercial purposes is non-ethical. Maybe using it for political or election-winning purposes is unethical.

"But for many years I operated without much of an ethical radar because I was just so impressed that we’d got something that actually worked in an environment where so much didn’t."

Oakes repeatedly compared the analysis technology used at SCL as a "gun," referring to how it could be weaponized to get results, whether in a commercial or political context.

He also said that the industry of data mining requires regulation. "We've developed a gun that works. And should it be regulated? Yes it should, very much so [...] Now is the time when regulation should come in, just as you would regulate gun sales and whatever."

He didn't know exactly how the industry should be regulated, however, and emphasised that almost all modern companies use data mining to some extent.

He also spoke about his former SCL partner Alexander Nix, who went on to become CEO at Cambridge Analytica. Oakes said that he and Nix parted ways over the decision to get into big data.

He was guarded about commenting on whether Alexander Nix crossed any ethical lines, but said "he wouldn't have been so successful if he wasn't ballsy." He even praised Nix for putting Cambridge Analytica on the map.

"[Alexander] has the brains, enthusiasm and the drive to do almost anything he wants [...] If you look at the brand of Cambridge Analytica, you could easily say, well, it’s poisonous, it's tainted, it's negative, nobody would want to touch it. It’s also the only data analytics company that is known worldwide," Oakes said.

"He’s still got the moniker of having been the CEO of a campaign that knocked $60 billion off Facebook by opening up this discussion and area and still not one illegal thing has been committed that hasn't been also done by Facebook and every other data company. So I’m not defending Cambridge Analytica, but I don’t actually know what they did wrong."

See Also:

Read Full Story