Ex-Cambridge Analytics Chief Keynotes Blockchain Summit at UCSB

Julian Wheatland is interviewed after his keynote at UCSB's First Blockchain Summit
Julian Wheatland is interviewed at UCSB on Nov. 23.

An ex-chief of a defunct data harvesting company told a UC Santa Barbara crowd Nov. 23 that the growing blockchain industry needs to establish ethical guidelines to avoid the scandals that enveloped his former firm several years ago. 

Former Cambridge Analytics executive Julian Wheatland gave the keynote presentation at the first Blockchain Summit, which drew some 375 participants to the university campus. 

Wheatland’s presentation was titled “The Weaponization of Personal Data.” 

Blockchain is the digital and decentralized ledger that records transactions. When someone buys, sells, transfers or buys digital coins on a decentralized exchange, a ledger records that transaction, usually encrypted to protect it from cybercriminals. Transactions are recorded and processed without usually a traditional bank. 

However, as financial technology continues to expand, Wheatland said regulators can’t keep up with it or and ethical guidelines to tell which company is the most transparent and reliable. 

Even though they have denied any illicit activity, U.K-based Cambridge Analytica and the American social media giant Facebook were the principals in a scandal over the alleged improper harvesting and use of personal data.  

Last year, British TV recorded senior executives at Cambridge Analytica, including then-CEO Alexander Nix, saying the firm harvested data it could use as misinformation, for bribes and to hire sex workers to help political candidates win elections around the world. 

The harvested data may have been used improperly to direct political campaign messages for the U.S. president’s 2016 election victory and the U.K.’s Brexit “shocking” vote to leave the European Union. 

Wheatland told the crowd none of that activity was technically illegal, but certainly ethically questionable. He replaced Nix, led the company into bankruptcy and let go of its employees. 

The keynote speaker was interviewed by journalist Rachel Wolfson who asked him what he wanted to do next in his career. While hoping to lead another company, Wheatland said he would like to lead “a movement” to promote the development of ethical guidelines in the technology industry where very few exist today. 

Interestingly, Wheatland admitted members of his company didn’t believe Hillary Clinton would lose the 2016 election. However, he said, she weas defeated because of more efficient use of data for advertising the winner’s political campaign to find voters in which key states who actually vote in elections. 

As for Brexit, Wheatland said the British assumed Cambridge Analytics pushed voters to vote to leave the EU. Actually, he said that wasn’t the case, but the company didn’t deny it. 

That, he said, was “overhyping the press and a key mistake that helped lead to Cambridge Analytics’ eventual demise. 

Other topics discussed at the Blockchain Summit included: “Data Ownership, Privacy and Trust;” “Preserving Democracy with Open Source Technology;” and “Institutionalizing Digital Currencies.” 

One of the main movers behind the event was Cameron Dennis, president and founder of the Blockchain Acceleration Foundation

Posted Nov. 23, 2019.

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