The Other Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower Wylie’s Own Dodgy Data Dealings

While the ICO’s report into data use in the referendum principally served to blow apart Carole Cadwalladr’s main Brexit conspiracy, one aspect of the report that has largely been overlooked is the role of data-hustler-turned-whistleblower Chris Wylie. The one who made an international media and public speaking career out of setting up Cambridge Analytica and then dobbing them in…

A notable feature of the ICO report is how few people are explicitly named in it – not even Arron Banks is. The few that are include Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the academic whose company harvested the data behind the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a couple of other individuals related to Cambridge Analytica, and Chris Wylie. Not exactly the good guys in this whole saga…

Wylie’s inclusion in the report is not in the context of his role as whistleblower, it is as a key part of how Cambridge Analytica came to acquire the Facebook data at the heart of the scandal in the first place:

“In May 2014, Dr Aleksandr Kogan… offered to undertake the work himself as he had developed his own app called the ‘CPW Lab App’… We have seen evidence that CA staff, including whistleblower Chris Wylie, were involved in setting up these contacts through their networks of friends and colleagues; many of whom had been involved in earlier campaigns in North America…

“Once the company was set up and a contract signed with CA, Dr Kogan, with some help from Chris Wylie, overhauled the ‘CPW Lab App’ changing the name, terms and conditions of the app into the ‘GSR App’ which ultimately became thisisyourdigitallife (the app).”

Wylie himself has never denied his role in creating Cambridge Analytica, telling Damian Collins’ DCMS Select Committee in March: “To be clear, Cambridge Analytica was set up in large part because of the research I was doing at SCL Group [Cambridge Analytica’s parent company].”

However, Cambridge Analytica was not the only company which received the illicit Facebook data set that resulted from Wylie’s work with Dr Kogan. As has been reported in North American press (and confirmed by Mark Zuckerberg to the US Congress) but largely ignored in the UK, the harvested data was also acquired by one other company, Eunoia Technologies. Eunoia Technologies Inc. was a separate company registered in the US on 12th June 2014… by Chris Wylie.

Wylie’s background is in centre-left politics, he worked for many years with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada and also worked with the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Since becoming a whistleblower, he has described social data harvesting as “grossly unethical”…

However, that didn’t stop Eunoia unsuccessfully trying to flog its services to Donald Trump’s campaign director in early 2015, before Eunoia again attempted to sell their services to the Remain campaign in November 2015, as Private Eye reported in April this year. Finally, he had yet another pitch rebuffed in January 2016, this time with Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings dismissing his offer of “psychographic microtargeting”. Evidently Cummings was not the only one who concluded they were “charlatans”…

Zuckerberg told the US Congress that Wylie had certified to Facebook that Eunoia deleted its data in August 2016, but added that Facebook had “no way to confirm” activities that had “taken place off Facebook and its systems”. Eunoia’s UK branch didn’t wind up as a company until 24 October 2017.

The ICO’s report itself is inconclusive about the fate of the Facebook data, confirming that their own investigations into it are still ongoing:

“Our concerns also extend to who else may have received the harvested data and what they then did with it; our enquiries are active and continuing in that regard…”

“We will be making sure any organisations, which may still have copies of the Facebook data and its derivatives demonstrate its deletion.”

Given his intimate involvement in the genesis of the scandal, it would be remarkable if Wylie and Eunoia were not key lines of inquiry for the ICO in this regard. Only two companies are known to have received the illicit data – Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia. The ICO obtained a search warrant and raided the offices of one. What has it done about the other?




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