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May 29, 2018

Liberal entities did no voter targeting in 2016 research: Facebook whistleblower

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OTTAWA -- The Canadian data expert whose allegations set off an international uproar about the inappropriate use of private Facebook data says there was nothing at all nefarious about his work in early 2016 for the federal Liberal caucus research bureau.

Testifying before a parliamentary committee, Chris Wylie says his work for the bureau had nothing to do with the micro-targeting and psychoanalysis of voters -- and was strictly about providing communications services in support of caucus members of the incoming government.

Wylie came forward in March with accusations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested private data from tens of millions of Facebook users to build psychological profiles in hope of making political gains.

The whistle-blower has said his former firm used the information to help seal 2016 victories for Donald Trump's U.S. presidential campaign and in the U.K.'s Brexit referendum.

Following Canada's 2015 federal election, Wylie was awarded a $100,000 contract to do a pilot project with the Liberal caucus research bureau, and also worked in the offices of former federal Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff about a decade ago.

Wylie says the work wasn't particularly ground-breaking -- and insists he's never done any psychographic targeting for any of Canada's Liberal parties.

"Let me be just super clear -- any insinuation that I have done that is just untrue," said Wylie, who described some of his services as improving caucus and constituent communications, as well as analysis of what the public was discussing on social media.

"I have not worked on psychometric-based targeting for the Liberal party or any Liberal entity."

Wylie also told the committee that in general, when it comes to politics, the use of data or psychology should not always be viewed as "nefarious," nor does it mean parties are looking to manipulate, trick or suppress voters.

"It just means that you are looking for information to help you engage those people."