Watch CBS News

Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, speaks out on Facebook controversy

Facebook investigates Cambridge Analytica
Cambridge Analytica whistleblower on Facebook data scandal 03:22

Reports over the weekend said Facebook mishandled data from more than 50 million users, allowing Cambridge Analytica -- a consulting firm once employed by the Trump campaign -- to gain access to it. The revelations that have panicked Facebook executives and spooked its investors started at Cambridge Analytica's offices, the brainchild of now 28-year-old co-founder-turned self-proclaimed-whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

"All of these pieces of information, put together, create a digital portrait of who you are," Wylie said.

Cambridge Analytica worked for Sen. Ted Cruz and President Trump's 2016 campaign. The idea was to put 2016 political advertising on steroids by targeting certain people based on very specific people.

Here's how it happened: In 2014, a company called Global Science Research (GSR) used Facebook to distribute a personality quiz to analyze whether users were extroverted or neurotic. The company said it was doing it just for research purposes, but it actually harvested the psychological data from all the users and -- with their permission -- got access to some data on their Facebook friends. 

It then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create targeted political advertising. In total, some 50 million Americans may have been impacted.

"It scaled really quickly. We spent over $1 million on it, so it wasn't cheap but in terms of the amount of data that was collected, and the quality of that data, it was a rare example of where something was fast, relatively cheap, but high-quality, " Wylie said.

Cambridge Analytica co-founder Christopher Wylie opens up 02:28

Wylie also told CBS News' Charlie D'Agata that he's "taking responsibility" and "owning up" about Cambridge Analytica.

"I take a share of responsibility in this because I was the research director and I worked on this program so I'm going to start by saying I'm taking responsibility and I'm owning up," Wylie said. "In terms of who else needs to take responsibility: Cambridge Analytica -- it funded the program, it approved the program -- as an entity this is what ultimately became the foundation of what Cambridge Analytica is."

Wylie added: "Last week I offered to help Facebook and work with Facebook and their lawyers confirmed that they wanted to work in a collaborative manner -- when all of this came out I got banned [from Facebook] -- they decided that actually the whistleblower is the person they want to apparently go after."

Facebook said the use of the data was unauthorized. Since 2015, the company has banned third-party developers from collecting data on users friends. 

But Facebook's critics say the company should have done more. David Carroll, who has filed a lawsuit to figure out exactly what information was used, believes the social media giant should bear some responsibility.

"If they did let data get collected in an illicit manner and didn't adequately protect it when they learned how it was used, then yes, they are responsible. That's the deal they make with us, that they protect our data in order for us to use the service," Carroll said.

Wylie calls the data a "political gold mine."

"If you're trying to influence an American election, that's a one-stop shop," Wylie said.

Lawmakers want answers from Facebook amid Cambridge Analytica scandal 06:35

The more information a political campaign knows about you, the more they can target ads. They know your personality and they know your interests. They know your religion and how strongly you believe it, and they can target ads against those beliefs.

Users don't need to worry that their personal information will be hacked, or your bank information stolen, but Wylie has said that this information was used to create ads that turned people against each other and they were deliberately divisive.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.