Face­book whistle­blower pushed data-min­ing bound­aries in Canada: In­sider

For­mer Lib­eral in­sider of­fers in­sight on Wylie’s past

StarMetro Edmonton - - Front page - The cana­dian press, wiTh files froM The as­so­ci­aTed press

A Cana­dian data ex­pert who set off an in­ter­na­tional uproar over the al­leged leak of pri­vate Face­book user data lost his job years ago in the of­fice of for­mer Lib­eral leader Michael Ig­nati­eff, in large part be­cause he was push­ing a nascent form of the con­tro­ver­sial data-har­vest­ing tech­nique, says a for­mer se­nior party in­sider.

Christo­pher Wylie, a 28-yearold orig­i­nally from Bri­tish Columbia, has told news out­lets of how the in­ap­pro­pri­ately ob­tained pri­vate in­for­ma­tion of tens of mil­lions of Face­book users helped po­lit­i­cal move­ments score 2016 vic­to­ries in the U.S. elec­tion and the U.K.’s Brexit ref­er­en­dum.

Wylie has said he played a piv­otal role in those ef­forts and main­tains his ideas made a key con­tri­bu­tion to the cre­ation of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, the com­pany at the cen­tre of the datamin­ing projects.

Years ago, when he was work­ing in Ig­nati­eff’s of­fice, Wylie had al­ready be­gun to de­velop strate­gies on how politi­cians could cap­i­tal­ize on data col­lected through so­cial me­dia, said a for­mer se­nior Lib­eral in­sider who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

At the time, the idea was viewed as too in­va­sive and raised con­cerns with the Lib­er­als, who de­clined to have any­thing to do with it, said the in­sider: Wylie’s rec­om­mended data-col­lec­tion ap­proach spooked party of­fi­cials to the point that it be­came an sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor be­hind their de­ci­sion not to re­new his con­tract in 2009.

“Let’s say he had bound­ary is­sues on data even back then,” said the source, who noted that Wylie’s re­cent de­scrip­tions of his meth­ods in me­dia re­ports sounded fa­mil­iar.

“He ef­fec­tively pitched an ear­lier ver­sion of ex­actly this to us back in 2009 and we said, ’No.”’

Some of his ideas may not have even been fully pos­si­ble at the time, but the “whip-smart” Wylie ap­pears to have con­tin­ued to pur­sue them, said the in­sider.

Wylie, who left Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica in 2014, has not re­sponded to re­peated in­ter­view re­quests from The Cana­dian Press.

Re­ports by The New York Times and The Ob­server of Lon­don say U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign hired Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica to col­lect pri­vate in­for­ma­tion from the Face­book pro­files of more than 50 mil­lion users.

The re­ports say the firm ex­ploited pri­vate so­cial-me­dia ac­tiv­ity to help the Trump cam­paign bet­ter tar­get vot­ers by pro­fil­ing their be­hav­iour and per­son­al­i­ties ahead of the U.S. elec­tion.

On Satur­day, Trump’s cam­paign de­nied us­ing the firm’s data, say­ing it re­lied on the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee for its in­for­ma­tion.

In a state­ment Mon­day, Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica “strongly de­nied” the al­le­ga­tions it had im­prop­erly ob­tained Face­book data.

It also de­nied that the Face­book data was used by the Trump cam­paign and says it didn’t work on the Brexit ref­er­en­dum.

The com­pany in­sisted Wylie was a con­trac­tor, not a founder.

For Face­book, the con­tro­versy ap­pears to be tak­ing a toll. On Mon­day, Face­book shares fell $12.53 US or 6.77 per cent to $172.56 US on the New York Stock Ex­change.

Face­book has de­nied the data col­lec­tion was a breach be­cause peo­ple know­ingly pro­vided their in­for­ma­tion.

The com­pany has said Univer­sity of Cam­bridge psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Alek­sandr Ko­gan ac­cessed the in­for­ma­tion af­ter he re­quested it from users who gave their con­sent when they chose to sign up for his test via his Face­book app.

ANDREW TESTA/NYTNS

christo­pher Wylie helped found cam­bridge an­a­lyt­ica and worked there un­til 2014. The data firm har­vested per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from a huge swath of the elec­torate.

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