Cambridge Analytica bosses could still face sanctions if found to have breached data laws despite the collapse of the controversial firm, the information watchdog has said.
The investigation into Cambridge Analytica and the firm’s harvesting of data will continue despite the political analysis company declaring bankruptcy.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she had the power to fine directors and get them banned from running other companies.
Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s US election campaign, sustained severe criticism over its use of data gathered from millions of Facebook profiles.
It announced it would be shutting down on Wednesday, claiming the coverage of the scandal has driven away customers.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was investigating the firm as part of a wider probe involving social media companies, data analytics firms, political parties and campaigns.
“We need to get to the bottom of how personal data is used to target the public and target individuals,” Ms Denham said.
She told Channel 4 News: “We will continue our investigation, both our civil investigation and our criminal investigation.
“What we need to do is get to the bottom of this issue on behalf of the public and we will do that - we do have the mechanisms to pursue individuals and directors even if the company is no longer operating.”
She added: “We have been in this situation before where companies go into receivership or liquidation to avoid a sanction or avoid investigation and we have been successful in pursuing directors, in pursuing our investigation.
“We also, through the Insolvency Service, can collect fines, we can also ensure that directors are disbarred from serving on other companies.
“We can follow the data.”
Ms Denham said senior figures in Facebook had “so far” been co-operating with the inquiry.
“We are working with the most senior levels of Facebook Inc in the US, getting their co-operation.
“Of course, this is a challenge - this investigation is a huge challenge to their business model so we will see, at the end of the day, where we get to but so far we have co-operation.”
Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, said Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group “cannot be allowed to delete their data history by closing”.
He added: “Even if the name plate on the door changes, we are still able to pursue the former directors of SCL and Cambridge Analytica.”
The closure of the company comes in the wake of rising legal costs in the Facebook investigation and the loss of clients following revelations about the firm in March.
On Tuesday, Mr Collins repeated a request for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the committee, saying evidence provided by Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer last week “failed to answer fully” almost 40 questions.
Mr Zuckerberg has said it was a mistake to rely on Cambridge Analytica to delete tens of millions of Facebook users’ data and has apologised for the “major breach of trust”.
Up to 87 million people may have had data harvested by an app which was then acquired by the company, according to Facebook.
The app, a personality survey called “yourdigitallife” built by Aleksandr Kogan, of Cambridge University, collected personal data from users and their Facebook friends, in line with the behaviour of many similar apps at the time.
It allowed Cambridge Analytica to tailor specific political adverts to small groups of people, already knowing what their likes and interests were, it is alleged.
The firm played a key role in mapping out the behaviour of voters in the run-up to the 2016 US election and the extent of its links to Brexit campaigns is being examined by Mr Collins’s committee.
In a statement, Cambridge Analytica said: “Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the company’s efforts to correct the record, has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas.”
The firm said its employees had acted “ethically and lawfully” but “the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers”.
CA was also rocked by undercover recordings appearing to show senior figures in the company boasting about underhand tactics that could be used to entrap opposition politicians, such as bribery and sex.
Chief executive Alexander Nix was suspended in March following the broadcasting of the footage by Channel 4 News.