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Facebook User Data May Have Gone to Russia, Whistle-Blower Says

Anna Edgerton
The Facebook Inc. application is displayed for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Facebook is struggling to respond to growing demands from Washington to explain how the personal data of millions of its users could be exploited by a consulting firm that helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The whistle-blower who revealed how Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook Inc. user data to target election ads said the company could have shared that information with Russia.

Christopher Wylie, the former director of research for Cambridge Analytica and its London-based affiliate company SCL Group, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday that his company communicated with Russian firms and operatives that could have facilitated access to data from 87 million U.S. Facebook users.

This information “might have been shared or misappropriated” by Russian entities, Wylie said, because of then-Chief Executive Officer Alexander Nix’s contacts with with Russian oil company Lukoil PJSC. Wylie said Nix and Cambridge Analytica made presentations and sent documents to Lukoil, including a white paper about Cambridge Analytica’s data collection and online targeting of Americans.

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Asked outside the hearing if he’s been questioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Wylie replied, “All I can say is I have been contacted by the FBI.”

In his testimony, Wylie said that even if user data wasn’t explicitly given to the Russians, “the scale of the data and the location of the data was made known’’ in a way that would have made it relatively easy for an operative to access. He said that information could be used to create an algorithm to target Facebook users with profiles similar to those that were obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

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Nix was “quite keen” to get all kinds of contracts for Cambridge Analytica, according to Wylie. But after the company received money from Robert Mercer, a company founder and supporter of President Donald Trump’s campaign, “the only instruction we had was not to work with Democrats,” said Wylie, who worked there from 2013-2014.

Wylie said there “was a particular focus in the company’s activities” on swing states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. He also said company documents showed clients requested “voter suppression” services.

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