There was some surprising news from the world of fashion last week, with H&M announcing that they would be hiring Cambridge Analytica ‘whistleblower’ Chris Wylie to use data analytics and “sustainable and ethical” artificial intelligence to help them target potential customers. Guido thought he would do H&M the favour of reminding them about some of Wylie’s previous corporate engagements, to let them decide for themselves just how “ethical” they were…
Guido readers will be remember how Chris Wylie founded his own Cambridge Analytica spin-off, Eunoia Technologies, after acrimoniously parting ways with them. Eunoia then made failed pitches offering the same sort of illicit data targeting, to everyone from Britain Stronger in Europe to Donald Trump, until he finally found a client in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada, trousering a handsome C$100,000. Despite telling Damian Collins he had no clients…
The gaping hole in the narrative of Wylie’s Damascene conversion from “evil” data genius to righteous moral hero is the four-year gap between Wylie leaving Cambridge Analytica and finally deciding to blow the whistle on them, in which time he was happily carrying on with the same activities himself. Surely it had nothing to do with saving his own skin with a highly aggressive journalist hunting him down?
Even Damian Collins found enough time between grandstanding and amplifying Carole’s columns to put Wylie on the spot over this when he questioned him last year. If Wylie felt so strongly about the wrongdoing, why did he wait so long to expose it?
Wylie’s answers to Collins were a veritable cocktail of lies and misinformation:
- Wylie told Collins that he hadn’t blown the whistle sooner because he “didn’t appreciate the future impact” of his work at the time as well as claiming that he did “not think military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process”.
- This is a bare-faced lie: in 2013 Wylie explicitly said his goal was to create the “NSA’s wet dream” and openly admitted he wanted to profit out of using the data for “evil” as “evil pays more”:
“Our goal is first to make it an extremely profitable company. Then we will cleanse our souls with other projects, like using the data for good rather than evil. But evil pays more.”
- Wylie even told Collins that Donald Trump’s election had made it “click in [his] head” about the wider impact of what he was doing. Another shameless lie given his own company’s attempts to sell voter-targeting services to Trump’s campaign…
Wylie also tried to use the excuse that Cambridge Analytica had come after him with a “very aggressive team of lawyers” and forced him to sign an undertaking of confidentiality. This is a highly distorted account of what actually happened:
- According to the independent report into Cambridge Analytica by Julian Malins QC, CA’s lawyers did write to Wylie and his company, Eunoia, “regarding suspected breaches of covenants on intellectual property, client solicitation, staff solicitation and non-competition”.
- CA found out after one of their existing US political clients tipped them off that they had received a proposal from Eunoia “which purported to deliver exactly the same services as SCL [CA’s parent company]”.
So CA did come after Wylie with lawyers after he left – not to try to hush him up but because he had started his own company in direct competition with them. And was attempting to poach their existing clients using their own intellectual property…
- Wylie was forced to settle the prospective action in 2015 “by providing very wide ranging written undertakings to SCL… that, in summary, he would not use SCL’s intellectual property and other commercial or confidential material (obtained whilst working with SCL) in the course of his own business enterprise.”
- As the Malins Report notes, his own business flopped after this: “Wylie was not then and has not been subsequently successful in forming and running a business competing with SCL/CA. Eunoia fell dormant and was subsequently struck off the company register.” Good of H&M to give him another go…
Wylie’s story suddenly starts to look less like a tale of redemption and more like a story of revenge. Carole’s appearance gave him the perfect opportunity to stick the knife into his former employers who had forced him out of business. While simultaneously covering up his own fundamental role in the scandal:
- Right at the outset, Wylie introduced Cambridge Analytica to Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who developed the original Facebook data-harvesting app.
- He then worked directly with Kogan to turn it into the app at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
- Wylie left Cambridge Analytica, took the illegally-obtained data with him, and launched his own company trying to steal their clients.
- He unsuccessfully tried to pitch the same illicit voter-targeting services to a range of clients including Trump, Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe.
- His company flopped after Cambridge Analytica forced him to stop using the intellectual property he stole from them.
- Years later he finally turned whistleblower after being relentlessly pursued by Carole Cadwalladr for months.
- Now he goes round the world doing media interviews and giving speeches about how he exposed the wrongdoing – which would probably never have happened in the first place without his involvement – while getting the chance to wipe his slate clean with a plushy job in industry.
And he’s meant to be the good guy in all of this?