Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Testifies in U.K.LONDON — The whistle-blower Christopher Wylie held a roomful of British lawmakers rapt for three and a half hours on Tuesday, like a pink-haired, nose-ringed oracle sent from the future to explain data.
In testimony to the House of Commons’ select committee on culture, Mr. Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian, described the inner workings of SCL, a political consultancy that gave its clients access to a vast collection of personal information harvested from Facebook.
In one of the longest sessions in recent memory, Mr. Wylie made a number of jaw-dropping assertions, most significantly that the company’s exploitation of personal data had swung the results of Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. He also suggested that his predecessor at Cambridge Analytica was murdered.
But mostly, Mr. Wylie tried to explain data-mining. He looked like a cerebral skate-rat, which might in other circumstances have undermined his credibility, but in this case it seemed to help. He was polite. He resembled, as one journalist put it, “a patient grandson trying to set up a Skype call with his gran.”
His message was clear: If you aren’t already worried about how your personal data is being used, now would be a good time to start. “The way I like to think of it, data is the electricity of our new economy, and electricity can be quite dangerous,” he said. “We enjoy the benefits of electricity, despite the fact that it can literally kill you.”
Cambridge Analytica released a statement describing Mr. Wylie as “a part-time contractor who left in July 2014 and has no direct knowledge of our work or practices since then.” It said Cambridge Analytica, a subsidiary of the SCL political consultancy, did not use its cache of data in Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign, and had no involvement in the European Union referendum that ended with a victory for those who support withdrawal, or Brexit, from the bloc.
Mr. Wylie’s testimony bluntly contradicted that of his former boss, Alexander Nix, who has recently appeared before the same committee twice. Mr. Wylie said a cluster of pro-Brexit organizations employed a Canadian subsidiary company, Aggregate IQ, which provided them with SCL’s store of data.
“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he said.
He also suggested that Russian intelligence agencies could have easily scooped up the company’s vast library of data on American voters in advance of the 2016 elections in the United States, because Aleksandr Kogan, the scientist who collected it, made regular return trips to Russia.
“Put a key logger in Kogan’s computer in Russia and you’ve got everything,” Mr. Wylie said. He added: “It would make it incredibly easy for them to get access to this data. For me, that’s concerning and I think it should be looked into.”
Christopher Wylie, who testified to British lawmakers, has become a red-haired, nose-ringed matinee idol in some technology quarters.