On March 17, 2018, Christopher Wylie changed the discourse around data and privacy forever.
After months of secret work, the whistleblower went public with claims that the shadowy political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had weaponised the information of 50 million Facebook users during the 2016 US presidential election.
Wylie’s claims, made to the Observer newspaper, triggered the most intense scrutiny of Facebook and its hold on the world’s data to date. His exposé of Cambridge Analytica, combined with subsequent revelations around Facebook’s privacy practices, wiped $60 billion off the social network’s value. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, usually reluctant to give press interviews, felt obliged to go on a media apology tour, which evolved into a global advertising campaign.
Wylie’s emergence as a poster boy for data security was timely, coinciding with the EU’s new privacy regulation, the GDPR. His shock of pink hair, nose ring, and eloquent turn of phrase have made him TV dynamite, while The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr dubbed him “the millennials’ first great whistleblower.”
Wylie is not without critics, thanks to his own role at Cambridge Analytica. As a former employee, he helped build what he came to describe as “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindf–k tool,” which exploited Facebook data. BuzzFeed also reported on his efforts to set up another political consultancy while he was still in possession of the same controversial Facebook data set.
But his actions humbled one of the biggest companies in the world and turned the usually arcane issue of online security into an urgent, mainstream topic of discussion. Thanks to his decision to blow the whistle, Silicon Valley firms are going through a serious period of introspection.
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READ THE UK TECH 100 INTERVIEW: Christopher Wylie says he was pushed into traffic and assaulted after exposing Facebook’s bombshell data scandal »