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Harvested Facebook data could be stored in Russia, whistleblower says

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie is preparing to speak to federal authorities.


David Gilmour


Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed in an interview that there’s a “genuine risk” that personal data obtained by the company might be in storage in Russia, and the total number of users affected could be even higher than realized.

Wylie was interviewed on Sunday by journalist Chuck Todd for a segment on NBC’s Meet the Press. He previously worked as a data analyst at Cambridge Analytica, a firm used by the Trump election campaign, before exposing how the company had harvested the personal data of more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

In its own investigation, Facebook estimated that around 87 million users may have been affected. The social media company plans to alert users it believes were impacted on Monday. Last week, Cambridge Analytica said that it had held data on only 30 million users. However, Wylie told Todd that he believes the number “could be higher.”

“I know that Facebook is now starting to take steps to rectify that and start to find out who had access to it and where it could have gone, but ultimately it’s not watertight to say that, you know, we can ensure that all the data is gone forever,” he said.

The data was collected using personality quiz app called thisisyourdigitallife, developed by Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan, and in violation of the website’s terms, the data was sold on to Cambridge Analytica. Not only was the personal data of the participant user collected, but data was harvested from friend accounts linked to that user as well without their knowledge.

Facebook learned of the violation in 2015 and privately demanded that the companies involved destroy the data. Recent reports suggest, contrary to statements from Cambridge Analytica, that the data was not destroyed.

“There is a genuine risk that this data has been accessed by quite a few people,” Wylie said on Sunday, “and that it could be stored in various parts of the world, including Russia, given the fact that the professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the U.K. and to Russia.”

The whistleblower said that he had been contacted by congressional and Justice Department authorities, with whom he planned to fully cooperate and assist in any ongoing investigations.

“We’re just setting out dates that I can actually go and sit down and meet with the authorities,” he said.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerburg is set to visit Washington D.C. on Tuesday and Wednesday to testify before Senate and House congressional committees to answer questions about user data and the company’s privacy tools.

The company has taken out full-page advertisements in newspapers across the U.S. and Europe to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica “breach of trust.”

Zuckerburg has, however, declined an invitation to personally appear before the U.K. parliament, which Wylie criticized him for during the Meet The Press interview.

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