The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in the tech giant’s biggest ever data breach, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.
Christopher Wylie, who worked with an academic at Cambridge University to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”
Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale.