In late 2015, the turkers began reporting that the Global Science Research survey had abruptly shut down. The Guardian had published a report that exposed exactly who the turkers were working for. Their data was being collected by Aleksandr Kogan, a young lecturer at Cambridge University. Kogan founded Global Science Research in 2014, after the university’s psychology department refused to allow him to use its own pool of data for commercial purposes. The data collection that Kogan undertook independent of the university was done on behalf of a military contractor called Strategic Communication Laboratories, or SCL. The company’s election division claims to use “data-driven messaging” as part of “delivering electoral success.”
SCL has a growing U.S. spin-off, called Cambridge Analytica, which was paid millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s campaign. Much of the money came from committees funded by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who reportedly has a large stake in Cambridge Analytica. For a time, one of Cambridge Analytica’s officers was Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser. Months after Bannon claimed to have severed ties with the company, checks from the Trump campaign for Cambridge Analytica’s services continued to show up at one of Bannon’s addresses in Los Angeles.
“You can say Mr. Mercer declined to comment,” said Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesperson for Robert Mercer, by email.