Political data firm Cambridge Analytica is in the midst of a media firestorm again after The New York Times reported it was trying to get in on the blockchain and digital currency craze in recent months.
According to documents and emails obtained by the American newspaper, the London-based elections consultancy was one of the sponsors of the casino cryptocurrency Dragon Coin and its initial coin offering (ICO).
The alleged involvement with Dragon Coin, which gives its buyers a cryptocurrency that can be exchanged for gambling chips in a yet-to-be-built casino, also associates the embattled voter-profiling firm with Wan Kuok-koi, a Macau gangster.
Documents have listed Wan as a supporter of the Dragon Coin, although the project founder denied his participation in financing the token sale in any way. Wan Kuok-koi, who served 12 years in prison for money laundering, showed up at a signing ceremony staged by Dragon to launch the ICO.
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Dragon, which is betting its focus on Asia’s gaming industry, claimed earlier this year that it has raised $320 million in capital before the public token sale opens. The startup aims to raise more than $400 million in what would be one of the biggest crowd sales to date.
Cambridge Analytica played an insidious role in promoting Dragon Coin, according to the report. The company emailed potential investors and ultimately arranged for some of them to take all-expenses-paid trips to a glitzy Dragon Coin event in Macau.
While a number of prominent businesses have made moves into the cryptocurrency realm in recent months, this one may be different for a few reasons.
Alongside Facebook, Cambridge Analytica is at the center of an ongoing dispute over the alleged harvesting and use of personal data without users’ permission. The authorities in the US and UK also investigate whether such data was then used to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit vote.
One major reason why Cambridge Analytica was interested in getting into the cryptocurrency space was its plans to attract people to store and sell their online personal data. A former employee of the company said in an interview that “the goal was to protect that data from more or less what the company did when it obtained the personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users.”