Meet Christopher Wylie, the millennial whistleblower behind Facebook’s data controversy

Facebook suspends data firm that 'harvested' 50M profiles
Facebook suspends data firm that 'harvested' 50M profiles

If you're one of the 2.13 billion people who use Facebook during any given month, you might want to use your account with a "healthy dose of skepticism."

That's according to millennial data scientist and self-proclaimed whistleblower Christopher Wylie, 28, who recently revealed the surprising way data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica gathered personal data of more than 50 million American Facebook users without their knowledge.

Cambridge Analytica has denied violating Facebook's terms of service.

As an employee at Cambridge Analytica, Wylie used his experience in coding and data science to take the personal information of U.S. voters and target them with personalized political ads, according to Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr's yearlong investigation published in The Observer, which is the Sunday edition of The Guardian.

While Cadwalladr questioned if Wylie could be "the millennials' first great whistleblower," National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden weighed in on the matter as well.

edward Snowden tweet

"It's something that I regret," Wylie told Cadwalladr, adding that "it was a grossly unethical experiment because you're playing with the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness."

Based on the report from The Observer, as well as other exclusive reports, here are four facts to know about Wylie.

He won a lawsuit at age 14

Wylie grew up in British Columbia, Canada. When he was 6 years old, he was abused by a mentally unstable person, The Observer reported. Though the school tried to conceal the issue, a court battle followed.

Wylie said the legal battle was "particularly difficult" for his parents, a doctor and psychiatrist, respectively, "because they had a deeper understanding of what that does to a person long term."

While Wylie's childhood and school career never recovered, Cadwalladr reported, he successfully sued the British Columbia Ministry of Education at the age of 14.

As a result, he forced the agency to change its inclusion policies around bullying.

He went from school dropout to law student 

On top of dealing with years of growing up listening to psychologists, Wylie told The Observer, he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a teenager. Wylie reportedly hated school and dropped out at 16, but he developed an appreciation for politics.

He interned at the Canadian Parliament and at 17, he worked for the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition. Former Barack Obama political strategist Ken Strasma then taught 18-year-old Wylie all about microtargeting and data politics, NPR reported.

The following year, Wylie taught himself to code and at 20, he began studying law at the London School of Economics. At 21, he continued his career in politics and worked for the Liberal Democrats in the U.K.

"Politics is like the mob, though," Wylie told The Observer. "You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree."

He was 24 when he picked Cambridge Analytica over working at Deloitte

According to The Observer, Wylie's position as a political strategist with advanced data science skills allowed him to score a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, a U.K. work visa granted to only 200 people yearly.

Before becoming Cambridge Analytica's head of research, The Observer reported Wylie "had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defense and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry."

Wylie said he had even received a job offer from professional services firm Deloitte.

"The thing I think about all the time is, what if I'd taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if I'd taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn't exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this," Wylie said.

At age 24, Wylie gained an interest "in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters' behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University," The New York Times reported.

At the time, he was studying for a Ph.D. in fashion trend forecasting and Stephen Bannon was his boss. Wylie and more than half of the team he put together left the company by early 2015, the Times reported.

He's blocked from Facebook and Instagram but just joined Twitter

Facebook suspended Wylie's Facebook account and, as a result, he says his accounts on subsidiary companies Instagram and WhatsApp were also suspended. However, a WhatsApp spokesperson says no action has been taken on Wylie's WhatsApp account.

Because Facebook determined Wylie had not properly deleted the tens of millions of Facebook users' data, the social media company suspended his account, as well as those of other involved parties.

Wylie instead went to Twitter to share proof of his suspended Facebook and Instagram accounts, tweeting the "Downside to @facebook also banning me on @instagram is missing out on my daily dose of well curated food pics and thirst traps #millennial #whistleblower."

chris Wylie IG tweet

In an interview with British program "Channel 4 News," Wylie explained the consequences of wanting to curate your personality on these platforms.

"On social media you curate yourself, you put so much info about who you are in one single place. So wherever you go and like something, you are giving me a clue as to who you are as a person and so all of this can be captured very easily and run through an algorithm that learns who you are," Wylie told "Channel 4 News."

After being in a position that allowed Wylie to tap into an unprecedented amount of data, he offered a word of advice to those who may feel uneasy posting on social media.

"I don't want to say I don't trust anyone," Wylie told The Observer. "I go through life with a healthy dose of skepticism and I think that healthy dose of skepticism as to what you're seeing and what you're hearing and who you're talking to is the best way to go through life."

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Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that a WhatsApp spokesperson contacted CNBC after this article was published to say no action has been taken on Wylie's WhatsApp account.