Would Brexit have come about without Cambridge Analytica?

Whistleblower, Christopher Wylie in his lawyers office in London, Britain, 26 March 2018. [EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA]

Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, said British voters would not have chosen to leave the EU in such large numbers without the coordinated action of far-right networks that lent a hand to the Leave.eu campaign. EURACTIV.fr reports.

For the British whistleblower there is no doubt about it: without the mass intervention on social media by Cambridge Analytica, Brexit would not have happened.

In an interview with several European media outlets, including French daily Libération, the 28-year-old revealed how Cambridge Analytica had exploited the data of 50 million people on Facebook and provided details of how the company had an impact on several elections and referendums.

“The fact that a society has created a huge database of citizens, some of them collected illegally, and that there was interaction with military clients and defence ministries in several countries, poses a serious risk and erases the line between surveillance and market research,” said Wylie.

According to him, the US, Canada and the UK’s defence ministries have all worked with SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, on gathering information for political purposes. The company was mostly active in developing countries, where it worked closely with politicians. Christopher Wylie’s predecessor died in his hotel room in Nairobi while working for the Kenyan politician Uhuru Kenyatta.

Following a change of heart, Wylie is now trying to shed light on the ill-intentioned and massive use of data. “There’s a big difference between platforms that passively collect data and actors that proactively collect data with the intent to misuse it.”

In this case, the company mainly worked with a specific political agenda dictated by the American far-right movement, also known as “alt-right”.

“The freedom to do research, as I was interested in initially was quickly restricted when Steve Bannon arrived. Research became more specific: set up a narrative for what we now know as alt-right.”

Steve Bannon, a former advisor to Donald Trump who was the campaign director of the US president for the 2016 election, was invited by the Front National at a party conference in mid-March.

However, his role in the company is called into question as according to Wylie their work was to “go to a country to win an election”.

“Europeans, are in a way, at the mercy of American companies, Google, Facebook… And even if Europe and the European Union tried to regulate this, the fact remains that these companies were set up and developed in the US.

“At a certain point, we will have to realise and accept that personal data is becoming an integral part of the digital transformation in our society.”

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Wylie also stresses the company’s key role in several elections, starting with American elections: under Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica exploited and amplified rumours and other fake news – on Barack Obama, on troop movements that never happened; etc.

This questionable practice was also used in the referendum on Brexit. First by working directly for Leave.eu, the pro-Brexit campaign, and by allowing them to exceed the permitted expenditure ceiling by means of a Canadian company.

“If you target a specific amount of people with billions of adverts, this can be enough to win over a sufficient amount of voters,” said Wylie, who believes that Cambridge Analytica helped to change the opinion of some voters in favour of Brexit, thereby distorting the result of the referendum.

Facebook under pressure as EU lawmakers announce probes into data harvesting

The European Parliament announced on Monday (19 March) that it will investigate allegations that millions of Facebook users’ data was misused without their knowledge. The European Commission also called for national watchdogs to open their own probes of the incident.

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