Mississippi governor steered data firm to university
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s governor referred two British businessmen to the University of Mississippi to develop their data analysis company modeled on Cambridge Analytica.
The Oxford Eagle reports the company, Big Data Dolphins, has leased space in the university’s research park. The company is associated with Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, two prominent proponents of the successful 2016 referendum to have the United Kingdom leave the European Union.
“Upon learning that Eldon Insurance was planning to begin a new research effort at the University of Scotland, Gov. Bryant suggested to Eldon leadership they should look into doing research at a Mississippi university,” Knox Graham, a spokesman for Bryant told the Clarion Ledger “Ultimately, they were connected with the University of Mississippi. Gov. Bryant has full confidence in the University of Mississippi to make any decisions regarding their relationship with Eldon Insurance.”
Banks controls Eldon Insurance.
Cambridge Analytica has previously said that none of the Facebook data it acquired from an academic researcher was used to aid President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. The company also says it did no paid or unpaid work on the Brexit campaign.
Former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser testified Tuesday before the U.K. Parliament that in an atmosphere where data abuse was rife, she believed the leadership of the Leave.EU campaign combined data from members of the U.K. Independence Party and from the customers of two insurance companies, Eldon Insurance and GoSkippy Insurance.
Banks and Wigmore “have told multiple individuals that they took my proposal and copied it and they created their own Cambridge Analytica, which they called Big Data Dolphins in partnership with the data science department at the University of Mississippi,” Kaiser testified.
Wigmore called Kaiser’s statements a “litany of lies.”
The university told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it had not seen any data from Cambridge Analytica or Big Data Dolphins.
“The assertion that the University of Mississippi has received or analyzed any data from these companies is not true,” Alice Clark, vice chancellor for university relations, said in the Tuesday statement.
Eldon Insurance acted as a guarantor for the Big Data Dolphins group in its leasing agreement with Ole Miss.
Ole Miss spokesman Ryan Whittington said the space remains vacant and Ole Miss hasn’t signed any research agreement with the company.
Bryant cultivated a relationship with Banks, pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and others. Banks said in a book that Farage and Wigmore chanced into Bryant staffers in a hotel bar at the Republican National Convention in 2016, leading to an invitation for Banks and Farage to visit Mississippi. There, Bryant arranged for Farage to speak at a Trump fundraiser, and Trump was so taken with Farage that he asked Farage to speak at a public rally.
Bryant was in Britain this week for another in a series of visits and appeared on Farage’s podcast while there, tweeting about it Friday. Bryant also tweeted that after Brexit, the U.K is “now looking back again to the West for economic opportunities and we plan to take full advantage.”