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Former Cambridge Analytica CEO cancels ad conference interview after protest

Cambridge Analytics CEO, Alexander Nix
Joshua Bright | The Washington Post | Getty Images

The former Cambridge Analytica executive Alexander Nix has pulled out of an appearance at the largest advertising industry conference in the world following criticism.

Nix was due to be interviewed on stage Thursday at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France by Gillian Tett, the Financial Times' editorial board chair and editor at large, U.S. The interview was billed as his first speaking appearance since Cambridge Analytica went into administration after allegedly harvesting Facebook user data to try to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign and the Brexit vote.

Nix was set to discuss "personal data and political agendas," as well as how the scandal was reported and its implications for the media and ad industry, according to a post on the Cannes Lions website. But on Wednesday afternoon, conference attendees were sent notifications on their cell phones that his appearance had been cancelled.

Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, one of the reporters who broke the story in March 2018, tweeted on Monday: "Well done, lads. This is pretty special. Cambridge Analytica's Alexander Nix will speak at the Cannes Lions "Festival of Creativity" this week on....DRUM ROLL...'the morality of data.' Oh, and you know who else is going? Only Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg..! "

One ad director wrote an anonymous letter to Philip Thomas, chair of Cannes Lions, calling the organizers' inclusion of Nix a "monumental act of self-harm," and said he had cut up his Lion award, one of the most coveted prizes in the ad industry.

A spokeswoman for Cannes Lions confirmed to industry title PR Week: "Alexander Nix, former CEO and founder of Cambridge Analytica, will no longer be speaking in the Debussy Theatre on Thursday June 20. Festival organizers accept his decision to withdraw."

- CNBC's Sam Meredith contributed to this report

Cambridge Analytics CEO, Alexander Nix
Joshua Bright | The Washington Post | Getty Images