'I created Steve Bannon's psychological warfare tool': meet the data war whistleblower
The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didnât yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.
By the time I met him in person, Iâd already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.
Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (heâs 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambr idge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britainâs EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trumpâs election campaign.
Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating âSteve Bannonâs psychological warfare mindfuck toolâ.
In 2014, Steve Bannon â" then executive chairman of the âalt-rightâ news network Breitbart â" was Wylieâs boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analyticaâs investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology â" âinformation operationsâ â" then turn it on the US electorate.
It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined âThe great B ritish Brexit robberyâ, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. âI havenât talked about this to anyone,â he said at the time. And then he couldnât stop talking.
By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trumpâs chief strategist. Cambridge Analyticaâs parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. âItâs insane,â he told me one night. âThe company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? Itâs like Nixon on steroids.â
He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the mont hs following publication of my article in May,it was revealed that the company had âreached outâ to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clintonâs stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Muellerâs investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.
The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analytica threatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was âinformation warfareâ. But Wylie offers a unique, wormâs-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the USâs democratic process.
Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.
âWe âbrokeâ Facebook,â he says.
And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.
âIs it fair to say you âhackedâ Facebook?â I ask him one night.
He hesitates. âIâll point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.â
Last month, Facebookâs UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:
Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): âHave you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Anal ytica or any of its associated companies?â
Simon Milner: âNo.â
Matheson: âBut they do hold a large chunk of Facebookâs user data, donât they?â
Milner: âNo. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.â
Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analyticaâs CEO, Alexander Nix: âDoes any of the data come from Fac ebook?â Nix replied: âWe do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.â
And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that â" at least in 2014 â" that certainly wasnât the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters â" records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebookâs own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.
Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.
Itâs taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where itâs possible for him to fina lly come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic â" Robert Muellerâs in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissionerâs Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after the Observerâs first article in this investigation.
It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind â" to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissionerâs Office and the National Crime Agencyâs cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.
There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinar y, preposterous, implausible.
Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obamaâs national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.
âPolitics is like the mob, though,â he says. âYou never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.â
Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.
It showed these odd patterns. People who liked 'I hate Israel' on Facebook also tended to like KitKats
âHeâs one of the brightest people you will ever meet,â a senior politician whoâs known Wylie since he was 20 told me. âSometimes thatâs a blessing and sometimes a curse.â
Meanwhile, at Cambridge Universityâs Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality â" by quantifying it.
Starting in 2007,Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on âbig fiveâ personality traits â" Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism â" and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook âlikesâ across millions of people.
The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. âThey had a lot of approaches from the security services,â a member of the centre told me. âThere was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked âI hate Israelâ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.
âThere are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.â
The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinskiâs PhD and Darpa, the US governmentâs secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinskiâs work.
But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didnât have a clue what he was walking into.
âI wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,â Wylie explains. âAnd I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands itâs weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.
âAnd then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems theyâre absent-minded professors and hippies. Theyâre t he early adoptersâ¦ theyâre highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.â
Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems werenât interested.
âI did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: âWhy are you so pessimistic?â They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.â
Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.
Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldnât resist. âHe said: âWeâll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.ââ
In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UKâs Ministry of Defence and the USâs Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in âpsychological operationsâ â" or psyops â"changing peopleâs minds not through persuasion but through âinformational dominanceâ, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.
SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, m ostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.
Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa â" a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCLâs offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.
âThe thing I think about all the time is, what if Iâd taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if Iâd taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldnât exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.â
A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Br itain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.
What was he like?
âSmart,â says Wylie. âInteresting. Really interested in ideas. Heâs the only straight man Iâve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.â
Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.
If you do not respect the agency of people, anything you do after that point is not conducive to democracyChristopher Wylie
â[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking âUgh. Totally uglyâ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.â
But Wylie wasnât just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: âinformation operationsâ, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US militaryâs doctrine of the âfive-dimensional battle spaceâ. His brief ranged across the SCL Group â" the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.
I tell him that another former employee described the firm as âMI6 for hireâ, and Iâd never quite understood it.
âItâs like dirty MI6 because youâre not constrained. Thereâs no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. Itâs normal for a âmarket research companyâ to amass data on domestic populations. And if youâre working in some country and thereâs an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well thatâs just a bonus.â
When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though itâs one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. âAnd the cyberwarfare guy is like, âOh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.ââ
It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer â" the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates â" and his daughter Rebekah.
Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekahâs Manhattan apartment.
âShe loved me. She was like, âOh we need more of your type on our side!ââ
âThe gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. Itâs why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.â
Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading â" which replaced hedge fund managers wi th computer programs â" and he listened to Wylieâs pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridgeâs Psychometrics Centre, called: âComputer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humansâ.
âIn politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas itâs the opposite way around with Mercer,â says Wylie. âHe said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.â
And to do that, Wylie needed data.
How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.
When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:
âDoes any of your data come from Global Science Research company?â
Collins: âYes .â
Nix: âWe had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.â
Collins: âThey have not supplied you with data or information?â
Collins: âYour datasets are not based on information you have received from them?â
Collins: âAt all?â
Nix: âAt all.â
The problem with Nixâs response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.
He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwellâs research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. âKosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.â (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)
Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. âWhat happened to that idea,â I ask Wylie. âIt never happened. I donât know why. Thatâs one of the things that upsets me the most.â
It was Bannonâs interest in culture as war that ignited Wylieâs intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercerâs millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazonâs Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Koganâs app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friendsâ too. On average, each âseederâ â" the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total â" unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other peopleâs pr ofiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.
What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasnât authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. Whatâs more, under British data protection laws, itâs illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.
âFacebook could see it was happening,â says Wylie. âTheir security protocols were triggered because Koganâs apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, âFineâ.â
Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a âclose working relationshipâ with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.
Cambrid ge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next â" how it extracted psychological insights from the âseedersâ and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.
For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didnât do for Trump has revolved around the question of âpsychographicsâ, but Wylie points out: âEverything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldnât you use it in your biggest campaign ever?â
In December 2015, the Guardianâs Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasnât until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebookâs lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that âGSR was not authorised to share or sell itâ. They said it must be deleted immediately.
âI already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,â says Wylie. âFacebook made zero effort to get the data back.â
There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.
Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.
Dr Kogan â" who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subse quently changed it back to Dr Kogan â" is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didnât know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that heâs received grants from the Russian government to research âStress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networksâ. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.
There are other dramatic documents in Wylieâs stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russiaâs second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: âWe have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our ser vices are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that âthey understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of electionsâ but that they were âfailing to make the connection between voters and their consumersâ. The work, he said, would be âshared with the CEO of the businessâ, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.
âIt didnât make any sense to me,â says Wylie. âI didnât understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?â
Muellerâs investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of Americaâs social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with âconsumersâ. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a ârumour campaignâ spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election â" in which the company worked â" by spreading the idea that the âelection would be riggedâ. The final slide, branded with Lukoilâs logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its âdeliverablesâ: âpsychographic messagingâ.
Lukoil is a private company, but its CEO, Ale kperov, answers to Putin, and itâs been used as a vehicle of Russian influence in Europe and elsewhere â" including in the Czech Republic, where in 2016 it was revealed that an adviser to the strongly pro-Russian Czech president was being paid by the company.
When I asked Bill Browder â" an Anglo-American businessman who is leading a global campaign for a Magnitsky Act to enforce sanctions against Russian individuals â" what he made of it, he said: âEveryone in Russia is subordinate to Putin. One should be highly suspicious of any Russian company pitching anything outside its normal business activities.â
Last month, Nix told MPs on the parliamentary committee investigating fake news: âWe have never worked with a Russian organisation in Russia or any other company. We do not have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.â
Thereâs no evidence that Cambridge Analytica ever did any work for Lukoil. What these documents show, though, is that in 2014 one of Russiaâs biggest companies was fully briefed on: Facebook, microtargeting, data, election disruption.
Cambridge Analytica is âChrisâs Frankensteinâ, says a friend of his. âHe created it. Itâs his data Frankenmonster. And now heâs trying to put it right.â
Only once has Wylie made the case of pointing out that he was 24 at the time. But he was. He thrilled to the intellectual possibilities of it. He didnât think of the consequences. And I wonder how much heâs processed his own role or responsibility in it. Instead, heâs determined to go on the record and undo this thing he has created.
Because the past few months have been like watching a tornado gathering force. And when Wylie turns the full force of his attention to something â" his strategic brain, his attention to detail, his ability to plan 12 moves ahead â" it is sometimes slightly terrifying to behold. Dealing with someone trained in information warfare has its own pa rticular challenges, and his suite of extraordinary talents include the kind of high-level political skills that makes House of Cards look like The Great British Bake Off. And not everyoneâs a fan. Any number of ex-colleagues â" even the ones who love him â" call him âMachiavellianâ. Another described the screaming matches he and Nix would have.
âWhat do your parents make of your decision to come forward?â I ask him.
âThey get it. My dad sent me a cartoon today, which had two characters hanging off a cliff, and the first oneâs saying âHang in there.â And the other is like: âFuck you.ââ
Which are you?
What isnât in doubt is what a long, fraught journey it has been to get to this stage. And how fearless he is.
After many months, I learn the terrible, dark backstory that throws some light on his determination, and which he discusses candidly. At six, while at school, Wy lie was abused by a mentally unstable person. The school tried to cover it up, blaming his parents, and a long court battle followed. Wylieâs childhood and school career never recovered. His parents â" his father is a doctor and his mother is a psychiatrist â" were wonderful, he says. âBut they knew the trajectory of people who are put in that situation, so I think it was particularly difficult for them, because they had a deeper understanding of what that does to a person long term.â
Facebook has denied and denied this. It has failed in its duties to respect the lawPaul-Olivier Dehaye
He says he grew up listening to psychologists discuss him in the third person, and, aged 14, he successfully sued the Canadian Ministry of Education and forced it to change its inclusion policies around bullying. What I observe now is how much he loves the law, lawyers, precision, order. I come to think of his pink hair as a false-flag o peration. What he cannot tolerate is bullying.
Is what Cambridge Analytica does akin to bullying?
âI think itâs worse than bullying,â Wylie says. âBecause people donât necessarily know itâs being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So itâs worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that youâre doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.â
Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebookâs role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye â" a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analyticaâs processesâ" says itâs become increasingly apparent th at Facebook is âabusive by designâ. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platformâs data flows, he says. And Wylieâs revelations only move it on again.
âFacebook has denied and denied and denied this,â Dehaye says when told of the Observerâs new evidence. âIt has misled MPs and congressional investigators and itâs failed in its duties to respect the law.It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasnât. Itâs failed time and time again to be open and transparent.âThe great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked Read more
Facebook denies that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said: âProtecting peopleâs information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, itâs a serious abuse of our rul es. Both Aleksandr Kogan as well as the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.â
Millions of peopleâs personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldnât have seen, and couldnât have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, âwould work for anyoneâ. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?
It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.
Nato or non-Nato?
âEither. I mean theyâre mercenaries. Theyâll work for pretty much anyone who pays.â
Itâs an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing â" at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public â" our intimate family connections, our âlikesâ, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that âs expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.
The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylieâs efforts, thereâs no turning the clock back.
Tamsin Shaw, a philosophy professor at New York University, and the author of a recent New York Review of Books article on cyberwar and the Silicon Valley economy, told me that sheâd pointed to the possibility of private contractors obtaining cyberweapons that had at least been in part funded by US defence.
She calls Wylieâs disclosures âwildâ and points out that âthe whole Facebook projectâ has only been allowed to become as vast and powerful as it has because of the US national security establishment.
âItâs a form of very deep but soft power thatâs been seen as an asset for the US. Russia has been so explicit about this, paying for the ads in roubles and so on. Itâs making this point, isnât it? That Silicon Valley is a US national secur ity asset that theyâve turned on itself.â
Or, more simply: blowback.Topics
- The Cambridge Analytica Files
- Big data
- Donald Trump
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