Facebook is modern-day East India Company, whistleblower says

Tech companies colonising society, according to Christopher Wylie

Tech companies are colonising society and Facebook in particular is our generation’s East India Company, one of the world’s best known whistleblowers has said.

"We are creating an environment in which we will lose agency because of what we are devolving to these companies," warned Christopher Wylie, formerly director of research at Cambridge Analytics.

Speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Tuesday, Mr Wylie, who revealed to the world his former employer’s misuse of Facebook data in political campaigns, said that despite the scandal, no-one had yet been properly held to account over it.

Speaking six months after revealing details of Cambridge Analytica tactics, Mr Wylie said he was shocked at how little knowledge regulators had around technology.


“My journey as a whistleblower has also been a journey in experiencing institutional failure,” he said.

Claiming that he had been forced to “mansplain” technology to law enforcement agencies, he said the high levels of ignorance he’d seen was no laughing matter.

“It’s not funny that our police officers don’t know how to use technology to stop data crime. It’s not funny that our politicians don’t know how to use the internet,” said Mr Wylie.

He went on to question why there aren’t effective rules in place for dealing with tech giants.

“Ifwe can regulate nuclear power, why can’t we regulate some fucking code?,” he asked.

MrWylie also hit out at those working in the tech sector who happily focus their energies on developing solutions without thinking of their possible impact on society. “Why is it that as data scientists we don’t have to consider the ethical implications of what we do? I think that’s absurd,” he said.

While expressing surprise at the lack of proper sanctions against Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mr Wylie said he had no regrets about his role as a whistleblower.

“Was it worth it? ‘Yes’, because there is now a conversation happening about it,” Mr Wylie.

He said we needed to realise how much influence tech companies such as Facebook had over us.

“Facebook has so much power it is basically making a digital clone of society, He said. “It is our generation’s version of the East India Company, going around exploiting people and our government’s aren’t equipped to deal with it.”

“We lionise tech founders and consider them as almost divine with all their shiny technology without stepping back to ask ourselves about how we are letting them colonise our society,” he added.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist