back to article FTC kicks feet through ash pile that once was Cambridge Analytica with belated verdict

The US Federal Trade Commission has issued what looks to be a largely symbolic ruling against the remnants of data-harvesting marketers Cambridge Analytica. In a unanimous 5-0 ruling (PDF) issued on Friday, the trade body declared that the defunct British marketing intelligence operation ran afoul of laws against deceptive …

  1. ecofeco Silver badge

    Better late than never?

    Well it's something innit?

    1. Graybyrd
      Windows

      Re: Better late than never?

      Yeh. Yawn... another US gummint watchdog wakes up and licks its own bollocks after watching the horse gallop off down the lane. Oh, well... back to sleep.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm confused. Is this not The Register?

        If so, then why (as I type this) are there 19 thumbs up and NO thumbs down on a comment basically dragging the US government for NOT timely sticking its nose into the affairs of a foreign company? Do you want the US government regulating foreign entities or not? I would think you would celebrate this languorous response.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Better late than never?

      "Well it's something innit?"

      It would be something if the directors were held criminally responsible. hell, it would be something if even the directors were held civilly responsible and liable to personal fines and not allowed to act as company directors ever again.

      This 'something' is simply a statement of the bleeding obvious. Meanwhile, the culprits are still at large, enjoying their ill-gotten gains.

      Incidentally, it's not just big elections that these guys are looking to swing. The collaboration with passport-touters Henley&partners and the cases of St Kitts & Nevis and other Caribbean countries, and Malta, is instructive:

      step 1 - find a 'malleable' government-in-waiting in opposition

      step 2 - use cambridge anayltica / facebook data to swing election in their favour

      step 3 - in return, new government creates 'citizenship programme', said programme to be administered by H&P

      step 4 - profit! (for the perps), who pocket a good chunk of the proceeds of selling passports, allowing foreign nationals to launder their reputation as well as their money

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Better late than never?

        But there are consequences, they will have to pay $80 to register a new company for 2020 and pick a new city name with an available dot com

  2. sbt Silver badge
    Flame

    Yet another demonstration of feeble corporate regulation

    In my field, my clients expect me to have generous professional and public indemnity insurance. Maybe one way to clean up this mess of bad corporate actors rushing for the lifeboats unharmed while the creditors or victims such as the clients, employees or suppliers go down with ship would be to make some form of insolvency and/or misconduct insurance mandatory; that way at least someone (i.e. the underwriters) with a vested financial interest would be looking into the conduct of the business's operators and pricing their premiums accordingly. The risks of large fines for GDPR non-compliance and the premiums to cover them might also make organisations think more clearly about whether they need all this data on their customers at all. Good corporate government and risk management should reduce premiums.

    Bad managers with a history of failed companies would get swept out as too expensive to partner with or employ. And there'd be a means to recoup missing tax, pensions, etc. in the case of insolvency. It's too easy to start and too easy to fail limited companies, without personal consequences.

    I'm sure adding yet more insurance has its downsides and the customers will pay in the end, but it's just a thought.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yet another demonstration of feeble corporate regulation

      In the corporate world, "Bad managers with a history of failed companies" generally get a new job running a new company ... do you really think that Cambridge Analytica managers will be working in MacDonald's now?

      1. sbt Silver badge
        Go

        Bad managers ... generally get a new job running a new company

        Well this is the precisely the outcome I'm suggesting there can be a financial incentive created to avoid. If regulators aren't willing to force the professionalisation of management with proper qualifications* and peer scrutiny (like there are for medicos, lawyers or engineers) or disqualify more than the most egregious f*ck-ups, then a direct relationship can be established by forcing businesses to find underwriters willing to take a risk on the people involved. It would place more emphasis in skills in long-term business sustainability, not merely the ability to come in, pump profits by stripping costs and then jumping off to the next business with the golden parachute.

        So there's the risk of the closed-shop and other perverse outcomes from peer-managed professional access controls (most likely at the expense of broader representation of minorities in management); markets for risk can also be heavily biased by stereotyping and group-think, but it's better than nothing given there's so little trust in government regulation these days. Can't think why.

        * I don't mean BS quals like MBAs, naturally.

      2. IceC0ld Silver badge

        Re: Yet another demonstration of feeble corporate regulation

        do you really think that Cambridge Analytica managers will be working in MacDonald's now?

        NO

        brand new CO, NO relation to old one what so ever

        name - Oxford Analysis :oP

    2. JassMan

      Re: Yet another demonstration of feeble corporate regulation

      In my field, my clients expect me to have generous professional and public indemnity insurance.

      Not many insurers pay out in the case of fraud and deliberate illegality. The insurance is against being sued when something accidentally goes wrong. The public can't claim against the policy when the company screws over an entire country then shuts its doors.

      1. sbt Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Yet another demonstration of feeble corporate regulation

        Not your downthumb, but there's a distinction between insurance beneficiaries here; It's true I can't get PI coverage for my clients for my own illegality, but I can easily protect myself against criminal acts by others (e.g. theft/arson for property). So it would be the case that the legal setup required would be atypical viz. policyholders, actors and covered entities. If governments were the beneficiaries (e.g. on behalf of citizens/tax collectors), then they could be policy holders and fund via self-insurance or levies, etc).

        As long as the beneficiaries are not the policy holder, then I think it's possible to get coverage for illegality. It's how our compulsory personal injury coverage for driving works here; victims (other drivers/pedestrians) are still covered, even if the driver (and policy holder) breaks the law.

  3. Mike007

    Liability limited to shares with no value.

    A company has directors who are responsible for running the company. Company directors have a list of legal obligations in relation to running the company. Ensuring paperwork is filed with companies house. Acting in the interests of the company. And... Just a second... I am sure "making sure the company complies with the law" is on this list somewhere... it must be... trying to find it....

    Did you hear about that case where the judge ruled that a driver had limited liability for exceeding the speed limit? The court agreed that it was the company that was giving instructions to the accelerator, the director's foot was merely acting on behalf of the company. I would give you a link to the case but I seem to be having difficulty finding information today...

    1. airbrush

      Re: Liability limited to shares with no value.

      There could be circumstances where a companies liable such as seeing unrealistic targets that mean speeding is required.

      1. IceC0ld Silver badge

        Re: Liability limited to shares with no value.

        There could be circumstances where a companies liable such as seeing unrealistic targets that mean speeding is required.

        IIRC, there was a case in UK where a bus Co to maintain the timetable, was unable to actually STOP and collect passengers ................................

    2. Velv
      Headmaster

      Re: Liability limited to shares with no value.

      Much as I agree with you in principle, the article does say "its CEO and App Developer settled their involvement back in July."

      Now the observant would point out that they should not have been permitted to settle until the report concluded, however, welcome to the free world.

  4. jospanner Bronze badge

    So everyone gets away with it.

  5. doublelayer Silver badge

    Consequences?

    So, logically this would mean the people committing these crimes would be indicted with some fraud charges and a few other things, and an extradition request would be on the way? No? Oh. So some of this is on the U.K. government then? So the U.K. would be arresting them and charging them in local court? Not quite? So it's a civil penalty? The people will be sued and, if found guilty, they'll have to pay some fines? Not that either, really? Well they'd at least be prevented from running another company or at least required to submit extra oversight documentation that is required to be checked frequently? Wrong again, am I?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Consequences?

      Perhaps the US Gubbermint should file the papers to extradite the CA directors. They might find their removal to the US to be a lot more politically acceptable than others?

      There might even be some people cheering at their exodus.

  6. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Bre(aking Bad)xit

    Since organised criminality contributed to the referendum then it should be run again under the same conditions with the same electorate.

    It's too important a change for this to be shrugged off or ignored, especially since funding irregularities of Leave.Eu have been brushed under the carpet, and the ISC report into Russian interference has been kicked into the long grass.

    I voted for Brexit but this makes Britain seem like the worst excesses of Berlusconi.

  7. Diogenes

    If I were a budding politician I would employ the Russians as my campaign consultants. It seems that they understand the British & US psyche better than you Poms & Yanks know yourselves and are cheaper than any local advertising agency.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Whatever is to Surface Next in the Tempestuous See of Tremendously Tenuous and Tendentious Tales?

      If I were a budding politician I would employ the Russians as my campaign consultants. It seems that they understand the British & US psyche better than you Poms & Yanks know yourselves and are cheaper than any local advertising agency. .... diogenes

      If you are recently reading any or many of the national daily news rags/adulterated comics available in an election cycle, they will inform you either rightly or wrongly, for they care not a jot as to the unbridled truth, all budding politicians in the West are in the Employ of the East, with some being more red than others. It is what rag comics and crooked news services do/are paid to do and appear natural.

      Surely you must have already noticed that is the current way of Sublime Internet Networking Things?

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "in violation of the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework."

    I didn't know that was even possible.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      I believe the document reads (translated from the legalese) "Though shalt not share private data unless you're doing it clandestinely for the Government, paying tax on the profits of doing so or feathering the nest of corrupt politicians."

  9. Stuart21551

    'was indeed deceiving the public'

    and the FTC

  10. david 12

    Yet another demonstration of the importance of Active Defense.

    In the absence of a defence from the company, it was found guilty.

    Excuse me, but I find that less than convincing.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Yet another demonstration of the importance of Active Defense.

      Why do you find that less than convincing? It would have gone like this:

      Prosecutor: In conclusion, this is the evidence against the defendant, and it clearly proves their guilt.

      Judge: Defendant, you may now contest any of the points raised against you to disprove them, place them in context, or explain to the jury [replace with judge if not a jury trial] why the evidence does not prove you guilty.

      Defendant: Doesn't bother explaining anything because they didn't show up.

      Jury: Looks at evidence proving guilt, decides "guilty".

      They had a chance to appear and disprove the evidence. They chose not to take it. Unless the prosecution's evidence was completely lacking, and it wasn't, it's little surprise the decision went the way it did.

  11. not.known@this.address Silver badge

    "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

    I can understand the "news"casters on the Idiot Box telling anyone still watching that "People only voted for 'X' because the Internet told them to" but I am surprised by how many people on here are prepared to believe that everyone who dares to disagree with them must have been influenced by those damned Ruskies, Facebook, Twitter, Cambridge Analytica, or indeed anyone else so long as they don't have to face the unhappy fact that (shock, horror) not everyone agrees with them.

    We are supposed to be a bit more savvy when it comes to how the mind control rays* inside the little electronic boxes work, but many of the comments on El Reg suggest that many people around here really do believe everyone (else?) can only vote because some gizmo tells them who or what to vote for.

    *The new snake oil?

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

      No one thinks that *everyone* was influenced by this activity. Some people have quote well-structured long-standing arguments about Brexit (I cite code junky and Phil O'Sophical as examples here), or had a long-standing desire for political change in the USA (e.g. Bombastic Bob). These people knew long in advance what they would be voting for. However, given the tiny differences in the outcomes in both the Brexit referendum and the last Presidential election, the issue is how many swing voters were affected by the targeting of illegal adverts? We'll never know, but, as a Brexit supporter above wrote, the whole result is now hugely in question, and it strengthens the call for a re-run of the referendum. The USA gets a rerun of the last election next year, of course.

  12. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
    Headmaster

    Okaaaaay.

    Do I assume the reason for the decision is to create some sort of legal precedence for future law/decisions?

    Not a lawyer but that's what I think is the reason for doing this anyway.

    He's not a lawyer either ----->

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