Cambridge Analytica’s Whistleblower: Regulate Privacy Like Car Safety Standards

(Bloomberg) -- Hi everyone, it’s Nate in London. Last week I met Christopher Wylie at a conference here in England. He's best known for kickstarting a global backlash against Cambridge Analytica and Facebook for mishandling of user data.

In person, Wylie is confident and charming. Dressed in a black jacket and a collection of silver necklaces, the 20-something Canadian seemed at ease at Privitar’s In:Confidence cybersecurity event. During his hour-long session on stage he spoke candidly about some of the criticism and pressure he’d felt since he went public.

"I played a pivotal role in starting up Cambridge Analytica," he said. "It's my fault that the company exists. This project that I ran ended up breaching the privacy rights of at least 87 million people around the world so I'm not going to complain that there was a newspaper that found my childhood psychiatric records and did stories on that."

Wylie was also critical of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance in front of the U.S. Congress this month, and chastised the 33-year-old’s refusal to come to Britain where he would "face some actually difficult questions in the country that has jurisdiction over the investigation." Instead, Wylie said, the executive got "some softball questions from senators who don’t understand the internet."

However, he stopped short of supporting the #DeleteFacebook movement, and suggested that the industry needs expert regulation instead. He hypothesized that if a car was found to run the risk of exploding, activists wouldn’t set out to convince the world’s drivers to stop buying cars. Instead, he said, we would just ensure that automobiles aren’t allowed to be built in a such a way that might result in them exploding.

"Regulation for car-safety standards isn't left to lawmakers in Parliament or Congress, because they don't know anything about the technical features of an engine and what will make it explode or not," Wylie said. "They devolve powers to a technically competent regulator. We should be regulating privacy in the same way that we would treat safety standards in a car."

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