Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower suspended from Facebook and Instagram

Joe Sommerlad

Christopher Wylie, the man at the centre of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, has had his account suspended by Facebook.

The whistleblower has accused his former employers of harvesting personal information from more than 50 million American Facebook users in order to pass it on to third parties affiliated with the Donald Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, enabling them to microtarget potential swing voters with tailored party political advertising.

Mr Wylie told The Observer that the startup he once worked for had used data originally collected from the Facebook pages of paid participants in an academic study and those of their wider friendship networks in order to pass it on to Mr Trump’s then-campaign manager Steve Bannon for strategic purposes.

The whistleblower joined Twitter in the run-up to the story’s publication and tweeted yesterday that Facebook had disabled his account.

The journalist behind the story, Carole Cadwalladr, later tweeted that Mr Wylie has been suspended from WhatsApp and Instagram as well, but a WhatsApp spokesperson has since told The Independent that his company has not in fact taken any action to suspend Wylie's account.

Facebook has been roundly criticised over the affair and its failure to respond adequately after being made aware of the huge quantity of data Cambridge professor Dr Aleksandr Kogan had compiled as part of a research programme into online behaviour.

Dr Kogan’s work asked participants to download and answer questions on an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”, which in turn gave his company, Global Science Research, access to the profiles not just of his subjects but of their wider friendship groups as well.

Cambridge Analytica then allegedly mined those profiles for information on the owners’ political allegiances and social concerns and handed the findings on to Mr Bannon’s team, a breach of Facebook’s privacy rules.

The site announced it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), on Friday, saying that, “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do”, accusing Dr Kogan of lying to them about the app’s purpose and use and failing to abide by the site’s rules after obtaining the data legitimately.

“By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie... he violated our platform policies.

“When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made,” the company said.

The Independent contacted Facebook for a response regarding Wylie’s suspension and the company pointed us back to the previous statement to explain its decision.

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix has since been accused of “deliberately misleading” MPs when he appeared in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to give an account of the company’s activities last month.

“It seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and Parliament by giving false statements,” chairman Damian Collins said.

“Data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent, and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns.

“Facebook knew about this, and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica with it, and deliberately avoided answering straight questions from the committee about it,” he added.