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Uber denies its CTO met with Cambridge Analytica

Natasha Lomas
Uber is planning to tweak the historical pick-up and drop-off logs that

Uber has denied that its sitting CTO, Thuan Pham, met with Cambridge Analytica -- the controversial political consultancy at the center of a Facebook user data misuse scandal.

But it has not been able to confirm that no meetings between anyone else on its payroll and Cambridge Analytica took place.

"I’m not sure who they think they met with, but I can confirm our CTO never met with them and we don’t have a relationship with them," an Uber spokeswoman told us.

Giving evidence to the UK parliament earlier this week, former Cambridge Analytica staffer, Brittany Kaiser, had claimed that CA executives met with the Uber CTO in the past two years. Although she did not explicitly name Pham -- just citing the CTO job title.

The DCMS committee is running an enquiry into disinformation online.

Asked by the committee whether she had ever come across Uber data being used for any of the political campaigns that CA worked on, Kaiser replied "no".

However she qualified her answer, adding: "Although Cambridge Analytica definitely had meetings with the CTO of Uber in California -- about 1.5 to 2 years ago. 

"I don't believe anything came of that but a conversation was had," she also said.

The committee did not query her on the intent of the meetings with Uber -- although later she was asked if she'd had any contacts with other "big data companies", including Google.

Responding on that Kaiser confirmed she had had contacts with "Microsoft, Google and a few other companies of that nature, and Facebook" -- though she said this was only in a standard business capacity, noting that CA was a client "purchasing digital advertising space through them".

On Facebook she added: "They had two different political teams in the United States -- so they had their Republican team and their Democrat team, who usually inhabited separate offices on separate floors. My consultants in Washington DC would work closely with the Republican team on how we would use their tools to the best benefit for our clients."

Last month the committee also asked another ex-CA employee, whistleblower Chris Wylie, whether the company had access to Uber data -- apparently concerned that a 2016 Uber data breach, affecting 57 million riders and drivers (which the company only disclosed in November last year) could have been another data source for CA.

"To my knowledge Cambridge Analytica has not used Uber data," responded Wylie.

Uber told Congress last year that one of the hackers behind the 2016 breach was located in Canada -- and that this hacker had first contacted it in November 2016 to demand a six-figure payment for the breached data.

Also located in Canada: Aggregate IQ, a data firm that has been linked to CA -- which Wylie has described as the Canadian affiliate of CA's parent entity, SCL -- and which has been credited with playing a major role in the UK's brexit referendum, receiving £3.5M from leave campaign groups in the run up to the 2016 referendum. (AIQ has denied it has ever been a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL.)

The question of where this small Canadian firm obtained data on UK citizens to carry out microtargeted political advertising has been another line of enquiry pursued by the committee.

"[W]here did [AggregateIQ] get the data?" asked Wylie last month in his evidence session, discussing AIQ's involvement in the UK's Brexit campaign. "How do you create a massive targeting operation in a country that AIQ had not previously worked in in two months? It baffles me as to how that could happen in such a short amount of time.

"That is a good question. It is unfortunate that AIQ hides behind jurisdictional barriers and does not come here and answer those questions. But it is something that hopefully can be looked at as to how did it actually work."

Wylie has also alleged that AIQ "worked on projects that involved hacked material and kompromat" as well as distributing "violent videos of people being bled to death to intimidate voters".

"This is the company that played an incredibly pivotal role in politics here. Something that I would strongly recommend to the Committee is that they not only push the authorities here, but give them the support that they need in order to investigate this company and what they were doing in Brexit," he added.