The Conservative Party turned down an approach from Cambridge Analytica, the firm accused of illegally harvesting personal data to win elections, it has emerged.
Amid a growing scandal about the alleged activities of the political consultancy, a spokesman for Theresa May confirmed the Tories previously rejected a proposal from the company.
“An approach was made and the party decided not to take that forward,” the spokesman said, adding the contact came before Mrs May’s time as Conservative leader.
It is understood the offer of Cambridge Analytica’s services came during David Cameron’s time in Downing Street.
The revelation came as the Prime Minister described the allegations against the company as “clearly very concerning”, as she urged Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and all organisations involved to “comply fully” with an investigation by the UK’s data watchdog.
Facebook is under pressure after Cambridge Analytica was accused of illegally harvesting the personal data of 50m of the social media site’s users.
This has been followed by the publication of undercover footage revealing Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix boasting of tactics such as posing as wealthy businessmen to offer money to election candidates, or sending “very beautiful” Ukrainian girls to a politician’s house.
The firm deny engaging in “entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps'” in the course of its work.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mrs May told MPs she was not aware of any connections between the company and her Government.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, has been “run by a chairman of Oxford Conservative Association, its founding chairman was a former Conservative MP, a director appears to have donated over £700,000 to the Tory party, a former Conservative Party treasurer is a shareholder”.
He said: “We know about the links to the Conservative Party, they go on and on.”
In response, the Prime Minister told MPs: “I can say that in as far as I’m aware the Government has no current contracts with Cambridge Analytica or with the SCL Group.”
Referring to the ongoing investigation into Cambridge Analytica by UK authorities, Mrs May added: “What we have seen in Cambridge Analytica, the allegations are clearly very concerning and it is absolutely right that they should be properly investigated.
“It’s right the Information Commissioner is doing exactly that, because people need to have confidence in how their personal data is being used.
“And I would expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all organisations involved to comply fully with the investigation that’s taking place.”
Cambridge Analytica, which operates in the UK and is registered in the US, describes itself as a consultancy that “uses data to change audience behaviour” and worked with Donald Trump’s successful US presidential election campaign.
A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party has never employed Cambridge Analytica, or its parent company, nor used their services.”
Tory MP Damian Collins, the chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, has written to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to formally request he appear before them in an oral evidence session, over the claims Cambridge Analytica used millions of Facebook profiles without authorisation to predict and influence the US election.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed it held a contract with SCL Group in 2014/15, but there was no recorded data breach during the period of time the contract was held and robust information security measures were in place.
SCL Group only held a provisional List X accreditation with the (MoD), for those holding classified information as part of Government contracts, and have not had this accreditation since 2013.
An MoD spokesperson said: “We have no current relationship or existing contracts with SCL Group, which includes Cambridge Analytica.
“As such, the company has no access to any classified information.”
Downing Street later said it had found two other Government departments previously held contracts with SCL Group.
SCL held a training contract with the Home Office in 2009 and a contract with the Foreign Office for a communications project in 2008/09, said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
None of the departments have current contracts with SCL, the spokesman added.