SAN FRANCISCO — The embattled political data firm Cambridge Analytica quietly sought to develop its own virtual currency in recent months through a so-called initial coin offering, a novel fund-raising method that has come under growing scrutiny by financial regulators around the world.
The offering was part of a broader, but still very private push that the firm was making into the nascent world of cryptocurrencies over the last year.
Much like its acquisition of Facebook data to build psychological profiles of voters, the new business line pushed the firm into murky ethical and legal situations. Documents and emails obtained by The New York Times show that Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to help promote another group’s digital token, the Dragon Coin, associated the firm with a famous gangster in Macau who has gone by the nickname Broken Tooth.
The goal of Cambridge Analytica’s own coin offering? Raise money that would pay for the creation of a system to help people store and sell their online personal data to advertisers, Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, said in an interview. The idea was to protect information from more or less what the firm did when it obtained the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users.
“Who knows more about the usage of personal data than Cambridge Analytica?” Ms. Kaiser said. “So why not build a platform that reconstructs the way that works?”