Cambridge Analytica-founder turned whistleblower Christopher Wylie has been temporarily blocked from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp following revelations about the data analysis firm he helped to establish. Cambridge Analytica allegedly harvested tens of millions of Facebook users’ personal information without their permission. That data was then reportedly used to influence and wage a so-called culture war during the 2016 US presidential election.
“I think it’s really important for Americans to know what this company has been doing with their data and it’s really important I think to find out: was this data used to help elect Donald Trump?” Wylie asked in an interview on NBC’s The Today Show.
“I think we need to step back for a second and de-politicise this because this is about the safety of Americans and the integrity of the American democratic process”, he added.
Wylie says the goal was to exploit what was known about the Facebook users and “target their inner demons.”
“What Cambridge Analytica does is works on creating a web of disinformation online so that people start going down the rabbit hole of clicking on blogs, websites, etc., that make them think that certain things are happening that may not be.”
Both he and Carole Cadwalladr – the Observer journalist who helped break the story - are calling for those responsible to be held accountable.
“This data was misappropriated and mishandled by this company and I think that they need to investigated for that”, Wylie demanded.
Cadwalladr has labelled it “one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches.” Facebook has unequivocally denied a data breach.
“I think what there is to see here is a multi-billion-dollar Silicon Valley company, which allowed this vast, vast trove of personal information to be harvested and to be used in ways that people can’t see and don’t understand. And that, to me, is the heart of this story at the moment. And, where is Mark Zuckerberg? That’s what everybody wants to know. Because Facebook’s executives were questioned in the US by congressional investigators and in the UK by MPs and they were asked direct questions about this. They were asked direct questions: does Cambridge Analytica have Facebook data? And they said no. And that is a huge scandal and I think they really need to step up and start answering questions properly now”, she told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Cadwalladr said she came across an American connection when she was investigating a potential link between Cambridge Analytica and the Brexit referendum in the UK.
“This is absolutely Transatlantic because this is how I came to it initially: I was investigating Cambridge Analytica’s role in Brexit and that was the first stage of it. [I?] wrote about that in February last year and that kicked off two investigations, which are still ongoing, about what the firm did during the European referendum. But it was then that I discovered this amazing young man Christopher Wylie, who’s the one who’s gone on record over the weekend – it’s taken us a year to get him over the line – and, he has the paper trail, he has the documents and the receipts and the contracts… So, this thing that Facebook have just denied for two years, he was able to come forward and say ‘I can prove this’. So the point is we actually just don’t know how this data was used during Trump’s campaign, because everyone’s just denied it up till now. Cambridge Analytica’s just denied it had that data, Facebook denied it had that data. So we’re only at the very, very starting point, I think, of being able to ask questions about this. But, my colleagues at The New York Times, they saw the data last week and this was the kind of amazing breakthrough. Because of the legal sensitivities, I couldn’t see it, but through some means I cannot tell you about, they actually saw the data and it was only then that Facebook started taking this seriously and only then that they started responding”, she said.
And what about people working on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?
“Well, there’s a kind of fascinating detail which hasn’t come out, yet, really. Robert Mercer, he was the investor into Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon (former White House Chief Strategist), he was the vice president of Cambridge Analytica. And it was Robert Mercer who, when Steve Bannon started working for the Trump campaign that was when Cambridge Analytica got brought onto the Trump campaign. And that’s a really key moment. And that happened in August. And it was only in August, a few days before, that Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Christopher Wylie and said ‘Oh, by the way, have you still got the data? Can you tick a box and tell us that you’ve deleted it?’ So, there’s some really key timings going on here about it was only when Cambridge Analytica were brought on to work with Trump and Steve Bannon was brought on to work with Trump that Facebook suddenly thought ‘Oh, there may be some issue here now’ and actually took efforts to sort of try and secure the data. But the efforts they went to were so pathetic. Christopher says that they literally sent him a form and said ‘Tick a box and tell us that you’ve deleted it’ and they did nothing else to ensure that it had been”, Cadwalladr told Morning Joe viewers.