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 Analytica.

Speaking on the first full day of this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon, 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.

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. “If we can regulate nuclear power, why can’t we regulate some f***ing code?” he asked.

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,” he said.

Also speaking at Web Summit, Vera Jurova, the European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, revealed that it was is looking at introducing heavy fines for political parties who misuse voters' data as it looks to "end the online anarchy around elections".

She said parties could face sanctions of up to 5 per cent of their annual budgets for breaching data protection rules in the run-up to the European elections.

The move comes as new research carried out for the commission shows that more than two-thirds of all Europeans are concerned that their personal data could be used to craft political messages.

Political content

The yet-to-be-released study also shows that 81 per cent are in favour of social networks being fully transparent about what political content is being put online and who is paying for it.

“The question is not whether tech is good or bad for our democracy. We do not have a binary choice in front of us because the answer is that it is both at the same time,” said Ms Jurova.

Close to 70,000 people are in the Portuguese capital this week for Web Summit, the third time it is being held in Lisbon.

On Wednesday, speakers will include European commissioner Margrethe Vestager, former British prime minister Tony Blair, Tinder founder Sean Rad, and Microsoft president Brad Smith.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist