Facebook whistleblower pushed data-mining boundaries in Canada: Insider
Former Liberal insider offers insight on Wylie’s past
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.
christopher Wylie helped found cambridge analytica and worked there until 2014. The data firm harvested personal information from a huge swath of the electorate.