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Cambridge Analytica planned to launch its own cryptocurrency

Cambridge Analytica planned to launch its own cryptocurrency


A weird convergence of two murky worlds

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illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The company behind Facebook’s massive data leak scandal, Cambridge Analytica, attempted to develop its own cryptocurrency this past year and intended to raise funds through an initial coin offering, Reuters and The New York Times reported today. The digital coin would have helped people store online personal data and even sell it, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser told the Times.

Cambridge Analytica, which obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users, was hoping to raise as much as $30 million through the venture, anonymous sources told Reuters. Cambridge Analytica confirmed to Reuters that it had previously explored blockchain technology, but did not confirm the coin offering and didn’t say whether efforts are still underway. The Verge has reached out to Cambridge Analytica and Brittany Kaiser for comment.

The company also reportedly attempted to promote another digital currency behind the scenes. It arranged for potential investors to take a vacation trip to Macau in support of Dragon Coin, a cryptocurrency aimed at casino players. Dragon Coin has been supported by a Macau gangster Wan Kuok-koi, nicknamed Broken Tooth, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Cambridge Analytica started working on its own initial coin offering mid-2017 and the initiative was overseen in part by CEO Alexander Nix and former employee Brittany Kaiser. The company’s plans to launch an ICO were still in the early stages when Nix was suspended last month and the Facebook data leak started to gain public attention.

ICOs have become a sometimes dubious way to raise money, even rivaling early stage venture capital funding in effectiveness for some companies. Companies like Kodak and Telegram have pivoted to launch their own ICOs and reaped financial rewards. But even as they emerged as a new way for companies to rapidly gain funding, ICOs have increasingly fallen under the SEC’s eye as securities that need to be regulated.

Cambridge Analytica’s brief fling with ICOs is a strange convergence of two questionable parts of the internet now coming under new scrutiny: cryptocurrency and personal data.