Oxford Analytica has a new mission statement: Were not Cambridge Analytica.
The Oxford firm, which was founded 42 years ago in the British university town of the same name, is a consultancy known for providing geopolitical expertise to clients around the world.
But despite its pedigree and a client list that includes governments, law firms and giants such as Microsoft, Oxford Analytica is now having to fight for its good name — and long-established identity — against a shadowy usurper just five years old.
The trouble started about a year and a half ago, when a data analytics firm named Cambridge Analytica started to appear in the news due to its links with U.S. President Donald Trumps campaign, said Oxford Analyticas global managing director, David K. Young.
“The scandal and all the elements of it are very much the opposite of what the company that we stand for is” — David K. Young, Oxford Analyticas global managing director
The other Analytica, whose line of business has nothing to do with Youngs firm, made waves due to assertions that it could swing elections thanks to sophisticated data analysis techniques and profiling methods called “psychographics.” Cambridge Analytica was set to fade from view, until it burst back into the global limelight last month due to reports that the firm had improperly harvested data from up to 87 million Facebook users.
Attention grew as a former employee, the pink-haired whistleblower Chris Wylie, testified before the British parliament, alleging that his former company was behind far-reaching misdeeds concerning use of data.
In the excitement, it proved all too easy to confuse one high-brow British university, Cambridge, with another, Oxford — forcing the latters Analytica to field endless calls from journalists and explain that it was not the firm at the heart of all the controversy.
Since the scandal broke, Young has been battling to distinguish his company in the publics eye from its counterpart, whose now-suspended chief executive, Alexander Nix, was caught on camera describing his firms techniques in a Channel 4 investigative report.
“The scandal and all the elements of it are very much the opposite of what the company that we stand for is,” Young, whose company draws on intelligence provided by up to 1,500 experts around the world, told POLITICO in a telephone interview.
Yet despite the explanations, Young has struggled to stop his company from being submerged by confusion.
Cambridge Analytica is accused of improperly harvesting data from up to 87 million Facebook users | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
On social media, commentators quipping on the news routinely mix up Cambridge and Oxford Analytica. At one point Young called up Steve Herman, who is White House bureau chief for U.S.-government-funded radio Voice of America, to point out an incorrect tweet linking privacy violations to “Oxford Analytica.” Herman, who has 71,000 followers, later removed the tweet and rectified his mistake.
“The people that make these mistakes, theyre not doing it out of malice,” said Young. “Were pretty serious in what we do — even if we tried to take a light approach in some of our responses.”
Despite his attempts to take the mix-up in his stride, Young is worried about negative impact from such confusion, which he believes is deliberate on behalf of the other firm. In early 2017, he launched a trademark case against Cambridge Analytica, whose name he felt infringed on that of his own company because it reproduced the word “Analytica.”
U.S. Republican political strategist Steve Bannon “came out saying Analytica was his creation, his stroke of genius,” said Young. “I dont think I can stand for people saying things that are not true.”
The trademark dispute is ongoing. But however it is resolved, its unlikely that Young, whose father founded the firm 42 years ago, will ever shake all association with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In its brief existence, Cambridge Analytica has already edged out its decades-old Oxford counterpart in online search results, to say nothing of general brand recognition.
Young is holding out hope that the trademark dispute could clarify the matter. “Its a key element to determine what happens to their name,” he said, adding that a judge should order the people behind Cambridge Analytica to stop using that name.