Cambridge Analytica whistleblower calls for online regulation

Christopher Wylie talks to Campaign about creativity and data misuse.

The Cambridge Analytica whistleblower has called for government regulation of online advertising and social media in an exclusive interview with Campaign.

Christopher Wylie has argued that online advertising and social media are currently like "the Wild West" and that the sector is failing to effectively regulate itself.

A former director of research at the now-defunct data consultancy, Wylie said the need for regulation is more urgent given the rise in the number of people using social media and consuming online content and advertising: "People now sleep with their phones more than they sleep with people."

"Currently, the industry is not responding to some pretty fundamental things that have happened, and happened on their watch," he said.

For example, Wylie discussed the scandal that he helped to expose, in which a personality quiz app on Facebook harvested data from up to 87 million people without their knowledge and then passed that to Cambridge Analytica. He claims that the company then used this data to pyschographically profile people and deliver pro-Trump content to them in the run-up to the US presidential election. Both Trump’s campaign and Cambridge Analytica denied this.

Wylie explained: "Facebook has known what Cambridge Analytica was up to from the very beginning of those projects. They were notified, they authorised the applications, they were given the terms and conditions of the app that said explicitly what it was doing. They hired people who worked on building the app. I had legal correspondence with their lawyers where they acknowledged it happened as far back as 2016."

Campaign contacted Facebook about the allegations, but the company declined to comment.

Wylie added: "If what you do is not proportional or not reasonably expected, you have to pay the price for that. It’s important to create a framework where risk is absorbed by the industries that are also profiting from the risks that are being created. Currently, a lot of industries are passing the buck to someone else."

He argued that regulation was not a bad thing for commercial viability. Instead he said it will help create consumer trust and confidence in the long-run. It will also create a level playing field where those that behave ethically are not at a disadvantage if competitors do not adhere to the same principles. 

His comments come as Facebook was fined £500,000 by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office for failing to protect its users’ data. Facebook said of the decision: "While we respectfully disagree with some of their findings, we have said before that we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action in 2015.

"We are grateful that the ICO has acknowledged our full co-operation throughout their investigation and have also confirmed they have found no evidence to suggest UK Facebook users' data was in fact shared with Cambridge Analytica."

Wylie has given a wide-ranging interview to Campaign discussing his ban on Facebook, why creativity is more important than data and the dark arts of data misuse. The November issue of Campaign will be published on 5 November.

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