Former Cambridge Analytica CEO withdraws from Cannes Lions panel

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO and founder Alexander Nix has withdrawn from a panel on the morality of data at Cannes Lions after news of his attendance drew criticism from journalists and industry leaders.

©Neil P. Mockford/GettyImages
©Neil P. Mockford/GettyImages

He was due to speak on Thursday (20 June).

Nix was forced to step down from his company after it was tied to a massive data breach that exposed the private data of more than 80 million Facebook users last year, and it later filed for insolvency.

The firm harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes. The scandal erupted in March 2018 with the emergence of a whistleblower, ex-Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie, who had been an anonymous source for Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr.

Cadwalladr is also due to speak at Cannes at the screening of a new documentary about the data scandal. On Twitter she described the decision to give Nix a platform as 'pretty special', considering both companies where found guilty of having broken the law, and in parts covered it up.

She wondered if he would ask Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, also in attendance at Cannes, when she first heard of his company. "That’s the exact sort of question she and Zuckerberg have refused to discuss with our Parliament," she added.

Other industry leaders have been critical of giving the controversial CEO a platform describing it as "tone deaf" and one cut up his Cannes Lion award in half, in a letter signed ‘Mad as Hell’ he called on Cannes to take a stand in an era of social purpose.

A spokeswoman for Cannes Lions confirmed: "Alexander Nix, former CEO and founder of Cambridge Analytica, will no longer be speaking in the Debussy Theatre on Thursday June 20. Festival organisers accept his decision to withdraw."

Organisers had originally stood by their decision to offer Nix at platform in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that argued Nix’ attendance would offer the chance for a "robust debate".

However, it seems organisers may have changed their mind after a protest at the festival earlier today. Cannes Lions issued the following statement:

Cadwalladr tweeted on the issue this afternoon:

Earlier today a group part of Extinction Rebellion staged a protest in Cannes, calling on adland to do more to on climate change.

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