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Whistleblower Wylie: Facebook can 'delete you from the internet'

During a London press conference, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie talks about Facebook’s massive power.

UK Authorities Seek Warrent To Search Premises Of Elections Consultancy Firm

Chris Wylie, the whistleblower behind the Cambridge Analytica controversy, spoke in London on Tuesday. 

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Chris Wylie, the whistleblower who brought to light Facebook's latest controversy, is having a hard time since the social network suspended his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Over the weekend, the 28-year-old data scientist provided whistleblower accounts to The New York Times and the UK's Guardian and Observer newspapers about Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy he worked for that was hired by the Trump campaign. The firm allegedly harvested data from more than 50 million Facebook accounts without users' permission.

After he turned whistleblower, he was abruptly booted from Facebook's services.

"This is the power Facebook has," Wylie said Tuesday during an onstage interview at the Front Club in London. "They can delete you from the internet."

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Facebook is so ingrained in our modern online experience, Wylie said, that his suspension from the social network has had a ripple effect.

"I know this sounds ridiculous," he said. "I can't use Tinder now, for example -- because you have to validate yourself with fucking Facebook." (One of the most popular ways to log in to Tinder is to link it to your Facebook account, however it's now possible to sign in using your phone number.)

The issue sounds trivial, but it does underscore how powerful and ubiquitous Facebook has become. It's a platform for 2 billion people to connect and chat with family and friends. 

Facebook, for its part, said Wylie was suspended because he violated the company's terms of service.

The controversy has rocked both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy said Tuesday that it had suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, after an expose by the British broadcaster Channel 4 that secretly recorded Nix discussing various political dirty tricks and describing the firm's role in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, Facebook is under fire by lawmakers who want CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer for the data misuse, calling for him to testify before Congress. Reports on Tuesday also said the US Federal Trade Commission is launching an investigation into Facebook over the scandal.

'Confused by Facebook'

Wylie said Tuesday that he legitimately doesn't understand why, in his opinion, the social network is trying to frame the story against him.

"I'm actually really confused by Facebook. I don't really understand what their play is right now," he said. "They make me out to be this suspect, or some kind of nefarious person."

According to Facebook, Cambridge Analytica initially got the data from University of Cambridge lecturer Aleksandr Kogan, who created a personality quiz that was billed as "a research app used by psychologists." Kogan legitimately gained access to information on 270,000 accounts through Facebook's Login feature but then broke the social network's rules for app developers by passing that data on to Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook found out about the violation in 2015 and demanded all parties involved destroy the data. But now there are allegations not all the data was deleted.

Wylie said Tuesday that because of his work with British authorities, the Information Commissioner's Office was able to get a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's office. "It wasn't Facebook," Wylie said. "It was me."

Facebook on Monday said it had hired a third-party digital forensics firm to perform an audit on Cambridge Analytica. But later in the day Facebook said the firm was standing down at the request of the ICO, which is undergoing its own investigation. Facebook also asked Wylie to submit his own audit, but said Wylie refused.

In response to Wylie's comments Tuesday about Facebook's framing of the story, a spokeswoman said: "Mr. Wylie has said he is coming forward to help the public. We share that goal and want to talk with Mr. Wylie as part of our investigation."

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