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Christopher Wylie

Christopher Wylie (born 19 June 1989) is a Canadian data consultant who previously worked at Cambridge Analytica.

Chris Wylie
Christopher Wylie in 2019
Wylie in 2019
Born (1989-06-19) 19 June 1989 (age 30)
EducationLondon School of Economics (LLB)
George Washington University (MA)

In 2018, he released a cache of documents prompting the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal,[1] giving The Guardian documents that described the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica.[2] centering around Cambridge Analytica's alleged unauthorized possession of personal private data from up to 87 million Facebook user accounts,[3] obtained for the purpose of creating targeted digital advertising campaigns. The campaigns were based on psychological and personality profiles mined from the Facebook data which Wylie had commissioned in a mass-data scraping exercise.

Wylie's revelations triggered government investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and raised wider privacy concerns.[4][5] He appeared in the 2019 documentary The Great Hack.

Early lifeEdit

Wylie was born to parents Kevin Wylie and Joan Carruthers,[1] a physician and a psychiatrist. He was raised in Victoria, British Columbia.[1] As a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD.[6] After being abused at the age of 6 by "a mentally unstable person", he successfully sued the British Columbia Ministry of Education after a six-year legal battle, winning a settlement of $290,000 at the age of 14.[7][8] He left school in 2005 at the age of 16 without a qualification, and when asked about his "probable destiny" on his school leaver's yearbook page, he stated "just another dissociative smear merchant peddling backroom hackery in its purest Machiavellian form".[9]

Liberal Party of Canada, 2005-9Edit

After leaving school, Wylie moved to Ottawa, where he began volunteering for "a short stint" in the parliamentary office of his Member of Parliament, Keith Martin. During his time in Martin's office, he overlapped with Martin's executive assistant Jeff Silvester, later commissioned by Wylie to set up AggregateIQ[10] The following year, he got a job in the office of the Canadian opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, at the age of 17. He subsequently "lost his job" in 2009 "in large part because he was pushing a nascent form of the controversial data-harvesting technique. 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. Wylie's recommended data-collection approach spooked party officials", CBC reported, quoting one Liberal Party colleague as saying "Let's say he had boundary issues on data even back then. He effectively pitched an earlier version of exactly this [the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting operation] to us back in 2009 and we said, 'No."' [11]

Obama campaign, 2008Edit

In 2008, he volunteered on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, learning about microtargeting from Obama campaign adviser Ken Strasma, although there has been some dispute over whether he held a senior campaign role as sometimes claimed, or held "a junior-level data entry role" as a volunteer.[12] He claims to have taught himself to code at age 19.[13]

LSE, and UK Liberal DemocratsEdit

In 2010, at the age of 20, he began studying law at the London School of Economics, graduating with an LLB in 2013, specialising in technology, media and IP law, and being awarded the Dechert Prize for Property Law. During his time as a student, he had worked as a microtargeting and digital campaigns strategist for the Liberal Democrats in the UK,[14] although his fixed-term contract was not renewed - one former colleague explained “We did not renew his contract because he is a compulsive bullsh*tter and doesn’t know what he’s talking about”.[15] In 2013 he enrolled for a PhD in predicting fashions trends at the University of the Arts London, but subsequently dropped out when working for SCL Elections. He later completed a master's degree in Political Management at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

SCL Elections/Cambridge Analytica, 2013-14Edit

Work at SCLEdit

In 2013, Wylie began working as a contractor for SCL Elections, and its offshoot for American elections (later renamed Cambridge Analytica), an international consultancy specialising in data-driven psychographic targeting in elections.[16]

Wylie's role at SCL was first revealed in May 2017 by Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who wrote that “He’s the one who brought data and micro-targeting [individualised political messages] to Cambridge Analytica",[16] Describing his role as being the company's "director of research", Wylie worked with Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan to illegally scrape the personal data of 87 million people from their Facebook profiles, and used the data to develop new forms of psychographic microtargeting.[17]

During his time at SCL, Wylie worked for American Republican candidates affiliated with the party's "Tea Party" wing in the 2014 United States elections;[18] and on disinformation campaigns for political parties in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and the Caribbean.[19] Wylie's research work included message-testing work for Steve Bannon on building a wall on the American-Mexican border, and he later recounted, "My ears perked up when I [later] started hearing some of these things like 'drain the swamp' or 'build the wall' or 'the deep state' because these were all narratives that had come out from the research that we were doing," and that the wall "is not really about stopping immigrants. It's to embody separation. If you can embody that separation and you can further distance in the minds of Americans us here in America and them elsewhere, even if it is just across a river, or just across a desert, then you have won that culture war."[20]

Departure from SCLEdit

Wylie ceased working with SCL in 2014, to found his own company, Eunoia Technologies.[21] A subsequent QC's report by Julian Malins, based on access to SCL/Cambridge Analytica's records, queried substantial parts of Wylie's account of his time at SCL, and the timing and circumstances of his departure. It states that he was never the company's "director of research" as claimed (a role which did not exist within the company), but that his employment contract made it clear that he was hired as a part-time "intern" on a student visa, limited to 19 hours of work a week; it queried his claim that he worked at the company until late 2014, quoting his resignation emails which stated that he left on 10 July 2014; it concludes that there was no evidence to support his claim to being a "founder" of Cambridge Analytica; and that contrary to his claims to have resigned in disgust at the company's practices, contemporary correspondence "does not suggest that, at least as at the end of his engagement with SCL, he had any qualms about the work he had been doing at SCL or helping others to do."[22]

Upon departing from SCL in 2014, Wylie took with him several hundred pages of sensitive company documents, along with a copy of the complete facebook dataset of 87 million individuals. At a 2018 Q&A session, "Wylie appeared visibly wrong-footed when asked why he had obtained so much compromising material on Cambridge Analytica prior to his departure, and why he held onto it for three years, and seemed to visibly struggle to provide any clear answer."[12]

Eunoia Technologies, 2014-17Edit

In 2014, Wylie co-founded Eunoia Technologies[9][23] along with former SCL/Cambridge Analytica senior staff Brent Clickard, Mark Gettleson and Tadas Jucikas.[23] In describing his ambitions for developing Eunoia, Wylie stated, "I want to build the NSA’s wet dream".[23] Eunoia Technologies has been criticized for the similar psychographic profiling tactics used by Cambridge Analytica,[9][23] using the same dataset shared by Alexander Kogan.[9][23][24][25]

In December 2014, Wylie registered Eunoia Technologies Inc in the tax haven of Delaware.[18] In May 2015, a wholly owned UK subsidiary of Eunoia was registered in the UK as Eunoia Technologies Ltd.[18] The name "Eunoia" meant "beautiful thinking" in ancient Greek,[21] and the company offered election-related consultancy services including "psychographic microtargeting", "multi-agent system voter behaviour simulation", and "data & communications management".[18]

Wylie's lawyer subsequently assured journalists that Eunoia had no data,[21] but parliamentary testimony from Dr Kogan later revealed that Eunoia had possessed Kogan's full data set of 87 million facebook users; and that SCL/Cambridge Analytica had only ever had access to some 4% of the scraped data, "in contrast with the contract with Mr. Wylie’s entity Eunoia, where Eunoia received all of the page like data as well as dyads",[26] and that unlike SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie's company had been the only organization Kogan granted complete access to the dataset.[27]

Donald Trump presidential campaign, 2015Edit

During the Easter of 2015, two of Wylie's Eunoia colleagues who had joined him from SCL, Tadas Jucikas and Mark Gettleson, flew to New York to meet Donald Trump's then-campaign manager on his 2016 presidential bid, Corey Lewandowski, for a meeting in a Central Park hotel. They pitched for Eunoia to work on the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, but were ultimately unsuccessful. The approach to the Trump campaign was made with Wylie's knowledge as CEO of Eunoia, and reportedly had his blessing.[28]

Liberal Party of Canada, 2015Edit

In November 2015, Eunoia Technologies pitched Facebook data-mining techniques to the Liberal Party of Canada, securing a $100,000 contract in January 2016 for "a short-lived pilot project" with the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau. However, the contract was not renewed beyond the pilot.[29][30]

EU Referendum campaign, 2016Edit

Wylie has repeatedly denied having had any involvement in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union referendum, describing himself as “A Eurosceptic, but I wouldn’t call myself a Brexiteer”,[12] and pointing to his having been abroad at the time of the referendum - although he has conceded that most of the key personnel involved in the Vote Leave campaign's digital and campaign financing controversies were all friends or colleagues of his, including BeLeave founder Darren Grimes, BeLeave Trasurer Shahmir Sanni, AggregateIQ founders Zack Massingham and Jeff Silvester (a company set up at Wylie's instigation when he was SCL's director of research), and Vote Leave HQ staffer Mark Gettleson (who recruited AggregateIQ to work for Vote Leave), with Sanni and Gettleson later becoming witnesses in criminal investigations of the Vote Leave campaign.

It subsequently emerged that in January 2016, Wylie and Gettleson wrote a joint proposal on behalf of Eunoia, to Vote Leave campaign Director Dominic Cummings, to pitch for a pilot providing microtargeting services to the Leave campaign in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum.[18] The pitch was ultimately unsuccessful, with Cummings later describing them as "charlatans".[31] Gettleson subsequently admitted that they had only made the pitch to Vote Leave after first making a pitch to the opposing Remain campaign in November 2015.[18]

It was subsequently reported that on the morning of the referendum result, Wylie posted the "Brexit butterfly" graphic to his social media in support of Brexit, along with the caption "We did it", tagging four individuals: Conservative MP Nigel Evans of the Vote Leave campaign board; BeLeave founder Darren Grimes, later found guilty by the Electoral Commission of using BeLeave as a vehicle for illegally breaking campaign spending limits; and Leave campaigners Luis Lopez and Shahmir Sanni, with the latter later becoming a "whistleblower" on Vote Leave's campaign finance breaches.[32]

Eunoia litigation with SCL/Cambridge Analytica, and closureEdit

From 2015, Wylie and Gettleson became embroiled in litigation with Cambridge Analytica's parent company, the SCL Group, with SCL alleging that Eunoia had infringed SCL's intellectual property, had misappropriated SCL's data, had attempted to 'poach' other SCL contractors, and had attempted to 'poach' SCL's clients.[18] Wylie elaborated on the Eunoia allegations when denying them: "They tried to sue me over their claims that I was somehow trying to steal their clients, or to somehow try to interfere with their contractual relations with other employees, or what have you."[33] SCL later claimed that Eunoia had been "the subject of restraining undertakings to prevent the misuse of the company's intellectual property".[34] A QC's report noted:

"On 21 May 2015, SCL discovered that Eunoia Technologies Limited had approached at least one of SCL’s existing clients in the USA, following confirmation from a US political client that they had received a proposal from Eunoia Technologies, which purported to deliver exactly the same services as SCL. Consequently, SCL’s lawyers wrote to Wylie and others at Eunoia Technologies Limited regarding suspected breaches of covenants on intellectual property, client solicitation, staff solicitation and non-competition."[22]

Eunoia Technologies Ltd was voluntarily wound up in October 2017,[18] with accounts running up to 31 May 2016.[35]

WhistleblowerEdit

 
Wylie (right) and Shahmir Sanni in March 2018

On the 18 March 2018, Wylie gave a series of detailed interviews to The Observer, with revelations about his time at SCL/Cambridge Analytica, presenting himself as a "whistleblower".[13] He subsequently provided testimony and materials to a range of inquiries and legislatures around the world, and his revelations were instrumental in the May 2018 collapse of Cambridge Analytica. Wylie admitted to having been the principal anonymous source[36] for a May 2017 Observer article by Carole Cadwalladr which first drew attention to Cambridge Analytica.[16] Cadwalladr subsequently related how she had tracked Wylie down via LinkedIn in early 2017, and after finding him “fascinating, funny and brilliant”, had spent a year persuading him to go public with his allegations.[36]

On March 27, 2018, Wylie gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the UK Parliament which contained further revelations about the practices at Cambridge Analytica and its associated companies.[37]

In an interview with The Guardian, Wylie stated that Rebekah Mercer "loved the gays, and so did Steve Bannon. He figured if you could get the gays on board, everyone else will follow...(like the) Milo Yiannopoulos thing".[38]

Post-whistleblowing careerEdit

On 1 December 2018, Wylie was hired by H&M as its consulting director of research.[39]

Wylie criticised Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook's role in spreading religious intolerance in Sri Lanka.[40] Moulavi Zahran Hashim, a radical Islamist imam believed to be the mastermind behind the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings, preached on a pro-ISIL Facebook account, known as "Al-Ghuraba" media.[41][42]

Personal lifeEdit

Wylie is self-described as gay[43] and vegan.[13]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Larsen, Karin (20 March 2018). "Who is Christopher Wylie? How a B.C. high school dropout set out on path to political data harvesting". CBC News. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Reporter Shows The Links Between The Men Behind Brexit And The Trump Campaign". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  3. ^ Schroepfer, Mike (4 April 2018). "An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook".
  4. ^ washingtonpost.com March 21, 2018: How Cambridge Analytica’s whistleblower became Facebook’s unlikely foe
  5. ^ see also politico.com 20 March 2018: Congress to Facebook: Send us Zuckerberg
  6. ^ "Christopher Wylie: The whistleblower in the Cambridge Analytica scandal". Sources: Reuters, NYTimes, The Guardian, Washington Post. Straits Times. 21 March 2018.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ Zameena Mejia, 'Meet Christopher Wylie, the millennial whistleblower behind Facebook’s data controversy', CBC, 20 March 2018 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/19/4-facts-about-facebook-data-whistleblower-christopher-wylie.html
  8. ^ Patrick White, 'Meet Christopher Wylie, whistle-blower on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook use of data', Globe & Mail, 19 March 2018 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-who-is-christopher-wylie-the-whistle-blower-on-cambridge-analytica/
  9. ^ a b c d "Business plan hatched by Christopher Wylie sheds light on whistle-blower's ambitions, anxieties about Big Data". Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  10. ^ Jack Knox, 'How a Victoria kid ended up at heart of Facebook data-mining story', The Times Colonist, 20 March 2018 https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/how-a-victoria-kid-ended-up-at-heart-of-facebook-data-mining-story-1.23206550
  11. ^ Andy Blatchford, 'Facebook whistleblower pushed data-mining boundaries in Canada', CBC, 20 March 2018 https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/wylie-cambridge-analytica-liberals-1.4583810
  12. ^ a b c 'News', Private Eye No. 1467, 8 April 2018, p. 5.
  13. ^ a b c Cadwalladr, Carole (18 March 2018). "'I made Steve Bannon's psychological warfare tool': meet the data war whistleblower". The Observer.
  14. ^ Caron Lindsay, 'Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower used to work for Lib Dems and warned us of our 2015 demise', Lib Dem Voice, 18 March 2018 https://www.libdemvoice.org/cambridge-analytica-whistleblower-used-to-work-for-lib-dems-and-warned-us-of-our-2015-demise-56974.html
  15. ^ "Ex-Lib Dem Colleagues Raise Doubts Over 'Walter Mitty' Observer Whistleblower". Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  16. ^ a b c Carole Cadwalladr, 'The great British Brexit Robbery: how our democracy was hijacked', The Observer, 7 May 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy
  17. ^ Weaver, Matthew (21 March 2018). "Facebook scandal: I am being used as scapegoat – academic who mined data". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h 'Wylie's People', Private Eye No. 1497, 6 April 2018, p. 12.
  19. ^ 'Nigeria to launch probe into two elections over Cambridge Analytica', Mail & Guardian [South Africa], 3 April 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-04-03-nigeria-to-launch-probe-into-two-elections-over-cambridge-analytica
  20. ^ Kirker, Danica (21 March 2018). "Cambridge Analytica whistleblower gives inside look at Trump campaign". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  21. ^ a b c Ryan Mac, 'The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Said He Wanted To Create “The NSA’s Wet Dream”', Buzzfeed, 22 March 2018. https://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanmac/christopher-wylie-cambridge-analytica-scandal
  22. ^ a b Julian Malins QC and Linda Hudson, Report Regarding Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Ltd. (May 2018) https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/static.assets.commercial.prd.cambridgeanalytica.org/static_files/Malins+Report+re+Cambridge+Analytica+and+SCL+Elections+(4.27.18).pdf
  23. ^ a b c d e "Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Said He Wanted To Create "NSA's Wet Dream"". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  24. ^ "Here are all the questions Mark Zuckerberg couldn't answer during this week's Congressional hearings". nordic.businessinsider.com. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  25. ^ Lee, Dave (2018-03-17). "Facebook suspends Trump campaign data firm". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  26. ^ Aleksandr Kogan, 'Written evidence submitted by Aleksandr Kogan to the Digital Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee', House of Commons (UK), April 2018 https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/culture-media-and-sport/Written-evidence-Aleksandr-Kogan.pdf
  27. ^ Aliya Ram, 'Cambridge Analytica whistleblower approached Kogan for data access', Financial Times, 24 April 2018 https://www.ft.com/content/72691744-47b0-11e8-8ee8-cae73aab7ccb
  28. ^ Ryan Mac, 'The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Wanted His New Company To Work With Trump Campaign’s Manager', Buzzfeed, 28 March 2018. https://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanmac/cambridge-analytica-chris-wylie-eunoia-trump-campaign
  29. ^ Andy Blatchford, 'Liberals awarded $100,000 contract to man at centre of Facebook data controversy', CBC, 21 March 2018. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/christopher-wylie-facebook-liberals-canada-cambridge-analytica-1.4586046
  30. ^ Amanda Connolly, 'Here’s what the Liberals paid Cambridge Analytica’s Chris Wylie to do — and what they say he didn’t do', Global News, 21 March 2018. https://globalnews.ca/news/4097287/cambridge-analytica-christopher-wylie-justin-trudeau/
  31. ^ Dominic Cummings, 'On the referendum #24: Global conspiracies and a Scooby Doo ending?', Dominic Cummings' blog, 23 March 2018. https://dominiccummings.com/2018/03/23/on-the-referendum-24-global-conspiracies-and-a-scooby-doo-ending/
  32. ^ 'News', Private Eye No. 1466, 23 March 2018, p. 5.
  33. ^ Christopher Wylie [interview], 'Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks: Part 1', Channel 4 News, 17 March 2018, interview at 14 minutes, 40 seconds. https://www.channel4.com/news/cambridge-analytica-facebook-profiles-whistleblower-chris-wylie-election
  34. ^ 'Tweet relating to Christopher Wylie', Cambridge Analytica official twitter account, 17 March 2018. https://twitter.com/CamAnalytica/status/975081780553310209
  35. ^ 'Eunoia Technologies Ltd: filing history', Companies House, 23 March 2018. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09596348/filing-history
  36. ^ a b Charlotte Tobitt, 'Observer's Carole Cadwalladr: I became a 'news slave' in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scoop', Press Gazette, 22 March 2018
  37. ^ Kharpal, Arjun (27 March 2018). "Facebook and Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: Donald Trump's election made me speak out".
  38. ^ Signorile, Michelangelo (20 March 2018). "It Matters That A Gay Man Helped Trump Backers Exploit Facebook Data". HuffPost. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  39. ^ O'Connor, Tamison (29 November 2018). "Christopher Wylie Has Joined H&M to Harness AI for Sustainability". Business of Fashion. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  40. ^ Allsop, Jon (April 22, 2019). "After Sri Lanka bombings, a social media shutdown". Columbia Journalism Review.
  41. ^ "Sri Lanka bombings 'retaliation' for Christchurch mosque attacks, minister says". NZ Herald. April 23, 2019.
  42. ^ "Sri Lanka 'bombing mastermind' named as Moulvi Zahran Hashim". The Daily Telegraph. April 23, 2019.
  43. ^ Jackman, Josh (20 March 2018). "Gay Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie: Why does Facebook want to see my dick pics?". Pink News. Retrieved 21 March 2018.

External linksEdit