The Facebook scandal over misuse of user information has reached a Canadian data analytics company. And a whistleblower says he believes the firm, which has ties to the Trump presidential campaign, may have swayed the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit vote.
Christopher Wylie, who worked at Cambridge Analytica and has brought forward accusations about how the company allegedly misused data from as many as 50 million Facebook users, told a committee in the U.K. Parliament that a Canadian firm allegedly linked to Cambridge Analytica developed the software that the Trump campaign used to target voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Wylie said he began to realize the impact of the company’s work when Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and shortly after Trump’s inauguration, he reached out to a reporter at The Guardian, initially as an anonymous source.
It was then that he “came to appreciate that the projects I was working on may have had a much wider impact than I initially anticipated it would,” Wylie said, adding, “Donald Trump makes it click in your head that this has a much wider impact. I don’t think that military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process.”
Wylie also alleges Aggregate IQ broke U.K. laws on spending limits to sway the country’s 2016 referendum that set Brexit, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, into motion.
“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome in the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” Wylie told lawmakers.
At the beginning of Wylie’s testimony to the House of Commons Digital, Culture and Sport Committee, chairman Damian Collins said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had not accepted an invitation to give evidence, suggesting that the company’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, speak in his stead.
After hearing hours of Wylie’s evidence, Collins was angrier. He called it “absolutely astonishing” that Zuckerberg declined, stating that he would “urge him to think again if he has any care for the people who use his company’s services.”
Wylie portrayed Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, as totally without qualms about breaking laws and undermining democracies around the world.
“They don’t care whether or not what they do is legal as long as it gets the job done,” he said. “Broadly, this is a company that goes around the world and undermines civil institutions of countries that are struggling to develop those institutions. … They are an example of what modern-day colonialism looks like.”
Aggregate IQ has said that it has “never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity.”
Aggregate IQ, the Canadian firm that allegedly behaved illegally in the U.K. referendum, has publicly denied links between Cambridge Analytica or SCL.
“Aggregate IQ has never been and is not a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL,” the company has stated. “Aggregate IQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica.”
Wylie alleged that Aggregate IQ acted as a “proxy money-laundering vehicle” for funneling illegal funds into campaigns calling for the U.K. to leave the European Union.
Cambridge Analytica, he said, “absolutely shared data” it obtained from Facebook users with Aggregate IQ. Aggregate IQ then allegedly used that data to build the Ripon software, the election software platform that was also used in the U.S. presidential election.
“You can’t have targeting software that doesn’t access the database,” Wylie added, saying that he has submitted documentation to the committee proving this.
Cambridge Analytica has denied providing Aggregate IQ with the data it gathered, reportedly harvested through a personality quiz developed by the company Global Science Research. “Cambridge Analytica did not share any GSR data with AIQ, We haven’t had any communication with AIQ since December 2015,” the company said in a tweet.
Wylie pointed to a report from Gizmodo published Monday, indicating that internal documents from Cambridge Analytica show that Aggregate IQ developed its election platform and added that Aggregate IQ also “inherited a lot of the company culture of total disregard for the law.”
Wylie personally supported the “Leave” campaign, as he told the committee, but was troubled by what he viewed as threats to the democratic process. He pointed to the fact that a broad array of entities and parties supporting Leave selected Aggregate IQ, a company that he portrayed as having no public presence up to that point.
“When you look at the accumulation of evidence,” he said, “I think it would be completely unreasonable to come to any other conclusion than this must be coordination, this must be a common purpose plan.”
Wylie claimed that individuals from Aggregate IQ bragged to him about their “totally illegal” behavior.
He also told lawmakers that his predecessor at SCL, the parent company, died under mysterious circumstances in Kenya.