Online privacy in the U.S. is heading in the “same direction” as China, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told CNBC on Wednesday.
“The United States is walking in the same direction as China, we’re just allowing private companies to monetize left, right and center,” Wylie said on “Squawk Alley.”
“Just because it’s not the state, doesn’t mean that there isn’t harmful impacts that could come if you have one or two large companies monitoring or tracking everything you do,” he said.
Wylie, whose memoir came out this week, has become outspoken about the influence of social media companies due to the large amounts of data they collect.
In March 2018, he exposed the Cambridge Analytica scandal that brought down his former employer and resulted in the Federal Trade Commission fining Facebook, 15 months later, $5 billion for mishandling.
Facebook said political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data of up to 87 million of its users who took a personality test through a third-party app – the app not only gathered the users’ Facebook data, but also gathered data on their Facebook friends. Cambridge Analytica worked for the 2016 Republican presidential campaigns of both Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
While Cambridge Analytica has since shut down, Wylie said the tactics it used could be deployed elsewhere, and that is why data privacy regulation needs to be dramatically enhanced.
“Even if the company has dissolved, the capabilities of the company haven’t,” he said. “My real concern is what happens if China becomes the next Cambridge Analytica, what happens if North Korea becomes the next Cambridge Analytica?”
China’s regulation of the internet is the most severe in the world, according to a 2018 report from nonprofit Freedom House. In addition to controlling its own citizens’ data, China also is “providing like-minded governments with technology and training that enable them to control their own citizens,” Freedom House wrote.
Wylie also said he believes that social media companies should, at a minimum, face regulation similar to water utilities or electrical companies — “certain industries that have become so important because of their vital importance to business and people’s lives and the nature of their scale.”
In those cases, “we put in place rules that put consumers first,” he added. But he pointed out, “You can still make a profit. You can still make money. But you have to consider the rights and safety of people.”
The power of Big Tech and the appropriate regulation restraints to safeguard users and competitors are key areas of inquiry in a number of antitrust investigations being conducted by the FTC, Justice Department, state attorneys general and committees on Capitol Hill.