Facebook whistleblower's startup reportedly had access to data too

Christopher Wylie's startup held the same data on 50 million Facebook users that Cambridge Analytica had, a report says.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
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Edward Moyer
3 min read
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook logos

Cambridge Analytica wasn't the only one with access to improperly obtained Facebook data, according to a report.

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Toss a few more cloaks and daggers onto the pile that's currently spilling down around Facebook and voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica.

A startup business put together by Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee who blew the whistle on the Facebook data scandal, reportedly had access in 2014 to the same improperly obtained info on millions of Facebook users that CA had. And that startup, Eunoia Technologies, also reportedly approached the Trump campaign in 2015 about elections-related work.

The news about Wylie and his startup, reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed, is another wrinkle in a saga that's raised alarm about Facebook's privacy practices and about how shadowy big-data firms may be exploiting tech platforms to influence international politics.

Wylie's lawyer, Tamsin Allen, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the BuzzFeed report. On Tuesday, the news outlet noted, Wylie told UK lawmakers he hadn't used the Cambridge Analytica data set in connection with other projects and that the data "got deleted, I believe, in 2015 on my end."

Last week, BuzzFeed said, Allen told the news outlet that Wylie "has not worked for Republican clients since leaving [Cambridge Analytica]" and that Eunoia had "no data or assets." Cambridge Analytica has said Wylie left in July 2014.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, reports emerged that Cambridge Analytica had obtained data in 2014 on more than 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, after the party that had originally collected the info violated Facebook's policies and passed it along. Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign during the 2016 US presidential election, and it's under investigation in the UK over the role it may've played in the 2016 Brexit campaign.

In the aftermath of the data revelation, the news has been fast and furious. We've seen undercover footage of Cambridge Analytica execs discussing political dirty tricks and crowing about how they put Trump in the White House. We've seen the suspension of Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix. We've seen the #DeleteFacebook hashtag on Twitter (along with some high-profiles deletions by tech veeps like Elon Musk). We've heard calls for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify on Capitol Hill. And we've seen Facebook institute a privacy makeover designed to let users take tighter control of the data.

Wednesday's BuzzFeed report, which cites emails obtained by the news outlet, along with anonymous sources, says Wylie's Eunoia startup held the same Facebook data that Cambridge Analytica had and that it "subsequently pitched Republican political operative Corey Lewandowski on microtargeting tools that could be deployed" by the Trump campaign. Lewandowski didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the BuzzFeed report.

"Wylie did not attend the meeting," BuzzFeed said it was told by a source, "but he was well aware of it and its purpose to discuss voter microtargeting for a possible presidential candidate." BuzzFeed said Eunoia may never have officially launched and that another source said the startup couldn't secure funding.

During a Tuesday hearing before the House of Commons' select committee on culture, Wylie told UK lawmakers that his move toward becoming a whistleblower started when Trump was elected and he realized Cambridge Analytica "was no longer this niche, shady firm."

"It was a firm that was making a massive impact on the world," Wylie said, according to The New York Times. "It's a process of coming to terms with what you have created, and the impact that has had."

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