One of the founders of Cambridge Analytica, a firm that says it worked for Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election in 2013 and re-election in 2017, now says he regrets setting up the data-firm-turned- propaganda machine.
Chris Wylie, former Research Director at Cambridge Analytica, says he is sorry for setting up the company that has ruined democracy all over the world.
Cambridge Analytica’s executives say the firm and its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), have worked in more than 200 elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.
“It weighs on me that I played a pivotal role in setting up a company that I think has done a lot of harm to the democratic process in a lot of countries,” Wylie told Channel 4's undercover journalists, whose investigations blew the lid off the workings of the firm.
Wylie says they saw an opportunity in the freely available information on individuals and corporates online and decided to make cash out of it.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on,” Wylie told the Observer.
In social media, he told Channel 4 News, people share a lot of information about who you are.
“So whenever you go and you like something, you are giving me a clue as to who you are as a person,” Wylie says in the interview.
“All these can be captured very easily and run through algorithm that learns who you are. Colleagues at work can only see one side of a person but the computer, with all these data, can see a whole person and enable Cambridge Analytica, predict with precision, a person’s behaviour.”
They initially developed an App and requested Facebook users to fill it.
This enabled them to get very personal data which they were able to use to influence peoples thinking.
By downloading the App and filling in the survey, Cambridge Analytica was also able to mine the respondents’ data, as the app goes through the respondent’s social data network and captures all the data.
In a few months he says, they were able to get data from up to 50 million people but almost none knew their data was being harvested for ulterior motives.
Facebook according to the investigations by Channel 4 News, violated its privacy policies by passing on the data to Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook has, however, denied that there was a data breach in the sense that users by consent and friends, through their default settings, agreed to their data being captured.