- Emails indicate that Eric Schmidt's daughter Sophie once suggested that Cambridge Analytica's parent company work with Palantir.
- Cambridge Analytica later developed a relationship with a Palantir staffer that produced the idea to use an app to harvest Facebook user data.
- Both Cambridge Analytica and Palantir are owned by conservative billionaires who funded Donald Trump's election campaign.
LONDON -- Both Peter Thiel's data-mining company Palantir and a daughter of the former Google chairman Eric Schmidt had connections to Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook user information, according to documents seen by The New York Times.
"We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica," Palantir told The Times. "We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action."
The employee was Alfredas Chmieliauskas, according to The Times. His LinkedIn shows that he is a business-development staffer at Palantir in London. He suggested that Cambridge Analytica create a personality-quiz app to harvest data from Facebook users, The Times said. Cambridge Analytica eventually used a similar method to obtain data from about 50 million Facebook users it could then sell.
The connection between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica was apparently suggested by Schmidt's daughter Sophie, who had been an intern at SCL Group, a UK-based defense and intelligence contractor that created Cambridge Analytica in 2012. A 2013 email seen by The Times indicated that Sophie Schmidt, who did not respond to the paper's request for comment, urged that SCL work with Palantir:
"Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt's daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?" one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.
Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of the former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, visiting the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad in 2009. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Cambridge Analytica and Palantir began their relationship in 2014, when Christopher Wylie, the pink-haired Cambridge Analytica cofounder turned whistleblower who testified to Parliament in London this week, visited Palantir's London headquarters in Soho Square with Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. The Times said:
"Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie's team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge's psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.
"'I had left field idea,' Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. 'What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?' Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, 'could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.'"
Nix later tried to work officially with executives at Palantir, but they demurred. Ultimately, Cambridge Analytica pursued the app without Palantir's official help.
The emails will make uncomfortable reading for both companies.
Thiel is a Facebook board member and a conservative libertarian with a dystopian view of the future who funded Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. He became a billionaire through a series of tech investments including PayPal and Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica was founded by Robert Mercer, the conservative billionaire hedge fund creator who has also funded Trump and Breitbart News, the right-wing media group that is often accused of publishing misleading stories.
Cambridge Analytica is now the subject of criminal investigations in both the UK and the US over its role in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in the UK. The company has made contradictory statements about its alleged role persuading British people to vote to leave the European Union.