WASHINGTON – Former Cambridge Analytica research director turned whistleblower Christopher Wylie said Facebook knew about the data theft of millions of its users earlier than the social media company had let on.
“Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica’s deeds since 2015,” Wylie told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “Before the story broke, Facebook threatened to sue the Guardian and then banned me for whistleblowing.”
Cambridge Analytica is a data mining and analysis company based in the United Kingdom that worked with both the Trump and Brexit campaigns.
In March, the Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica — through a contractor — gathered personal information from an estimated 87 million Facebook users without obtaining the consent of many of those users. Russian data scientist Aleksandr Kogan accessed the data on behalf of Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica has denied allegations of impropriety. Earlier this month the company announced its intention to file for bankruptcy. The FBI and the Justice Department are investigating the data breach.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress last month that the company did not do enough to protect the data privacy of its users. Zuckerberg said Facebook has taken corrective action to prevent future breaches.
Facebook is being investigated by 37 state attorneys general. The company faces more than more than $2 trillion in fines, with an estimated $50,000 penalty for each breach.
Wylie’s testimony comes as Senate committees are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and potential collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Wylie said Cambridge Analytica targeted voters based on race, race bias, and personality traits. Wylie said the company teased political phrases such as then-candidate-and-now President Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp,” to ascertain voter response.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked Wylie if Cambridge Analytica had shared information with WikiLeaks.
“Not when I was there,” Wylie said.
WikiLeaks published Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails relayed embarrassing information about Hillary Clinton.