Cambridge Analytica worked “extensively” in India, and operated a system of “modern-day colonialism”, globally undermining democratic processes across the world, as Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who blew the lid on the firm’s gathering of data from Facebook told a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
He told MPs that the company had worked on “all kinds of projects” in India, including regionally, and believed “their client was the Congress,” he said, adding that he believed he had documentation he could provide relating to work in India. “They do have offices there, they do have staff,” he said. “I don’t remember a national project,” he said on Tuesday. “I mean India is so big, one state could be as big as Britain,” he said in response to Labour MP Paul Farrelly.
During his testimony he built a picture of the work carried out by Cambridge Analytica, and AggregateIQ (AIQ), a Canada-based company that had played a role in political processes across the world. They included particularly concerning instances of the role AIQ had played in disseminating violent video content by social media in Nigeria, as part of work there. Cambridge Analytica was an example of “modern day colonialism,” he suggested at one point.
“This is a company that has gone around the world and undermined the democratic process,” he said. “You have a wealthy company from a developed nation going into an economy or democracy still struggling to get its feet on the ground and taking advantage of that.”
Among allegations made by Mr. Wylie was the suggestion that Vote Leave, one of the main campaigns that pushed for Brexit, may have broken Britain’s electoral rules that went beyond existing concerns around spending infractions, over the role that AIQ played in the campaign.
“This is not about leave or remain. It’s about the integrity of the democratic process,” said Mr. Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, who earlier this month, revealed details of how the firm had inappropriately gathered Facebook data used to target voters in the US, dating back to 2014, using an app developed by Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan.
Mr. Wylie insisted, that despite his “pink hair and nose ring” he was one of the “rare breeds of progressive Eurosceptics.”
AIQ has long maintained its independence from Cambridge Analytica and the SCL Group — but Mr. Wylie insisted that Aggregate IQ, while not owned by Cambridge Analytica, held the licence to the intellectual property that formed the basis of Cambridge Analytica’s software, and effectively operated as an “internal entity” that were kept at arm’s length for purposes of political expediency.
He also described as “categorically untrue” claims that Cambridge Analytica had never used Facebook data, citing the app, which had been the “foundational dataset of the company”. Past evidence given by suspended Cambridge Analytica head Alexander Nix to the committee had been “dishonest” and “misleading”, he said.
During a lengthy session in which MPs from across the political spectrum on the culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee quizzed Mr. Wylie, he provided a snapshot of the work carried out by the firms, currently in the spotlight, highlighting how data captured enabled them to build up psychological profiles of individuals who would be particularly susceptible to forms of certain tactics.
During the Brexit referendum campaign, for example, rather than focussing on everyone in the country, AIQ focussed on 5 to 7 million people who were their “core” universe, blasting them with adverts in a “calculated way”. Between 5 and 7% of cases it resulted in the targeted individuals carrying out a “substantive action” for the leave campaign — highlighting the important role that AIQ’s work played in the campaign and the final result.
Asked whether the results swayed the referendum vote he insisted that was irrelevant. If someone was caught doping in the Olympics one lost one’s medal either way. “This is a breach of the law…this is cheating this is an irreversible change to the constitutional settlement of this country.”
Mr. Wylie’s testimony is the latest in a series of dramatic developments that brought together questions about Brexit, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Christopher Wylie was a part-time contractor who left in July 2014 and has no direct knowledge of our work or practices since that date,” Cambridge Analytica said on Tuesday, as Wylie gave testimony.
Investigative work by the Observer newspaper, Channel 4 and The New York Times , with Shahmir Sanni, a member of the BeLeave pro-Brexit group, has alleged that Vote Leave may have broken the rules by using BeLeave as a front for spending above the allowed limit, purportedly giving the group £625,000 to funnel into Aggregate IQ.
After the referendum, senior figures within Vote Leave had attributed some of their success to the work of the Canadian firm. Vote Leave “pretended” to give BeLeave the money, which had “no control over it,” Mr. Sanni told the Observer over the weekend.
During his testimony, Mr. Wylie alleged that senior figures in Vote Leave had used BeLeave to “launder” money. Bindmans, a law firm, said there was sufficient evidence to suggest a criminal offence could have been committed by the campaign.