Facebook suspends Canadian political consultancy AggregateIQ amid Cambridge Analytica and Brexit claims

Move follows claims the firm was linked to Cambridge Analytica and alleged 'cheating' in the EU referendum 

Adam Lusher
Saturday 07 April 2018 13:14
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Chris Wylie: The Brexit outcome 'could have been different' had there not been 'cheating'

Facebook has revealed it has suspended Canadian political consultancy AggregateIQ (AIQ) after reports that the company may have improperly had access to the personal data of users of the social media network.

The suspension comes after whistleblower Christopher Wylie claimed there were links between AIQ and Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL.

This has led to AIQ being mentioned in connection with claims that the Brexit vote was “unfairly influenced” by precisely targeted online advertising.

It was alleged last month that Cambridge Analytica may have improperly acquired the data of millions of Facebook users.

Cambridge Analytica has also come under scrutiny in connection with its role working for Donald Trump in the later stages of his US presidential election campaign.

The alleged “data breach” has also placed huge pressure on Facebook.

The social media network said on Wednesday that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the US, may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica – a significant increase on the 50 million estimate cited by many news outlets.

Facebook has now issued a statement saying: "In light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received Facebook user data, we have added them to the list of entities we have suspended from our platform while we investigate.

"Our internal review continues, and we will cooperate fully with any investigations by regulatory authorities."

AIQ, however, has a statement on its website strenuously denying any links with Cambridge Analytica, SCL, or the alleged data breach.

On the homepage of its website, AIQ states: “AggregateIQ is a digital advertising, web and software development company based in Canada. It is and has always been 100 per cent Canadian owned and operated.

“AggregateIQ has never been and is not a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL. Aggregate IQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica. Chris Wylie has never been employed by AggregateIQ.

“AggregateIQ works in full compliance within all legal and regulatory requirements. It has never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity.

“All work AggregateIQ does for each client is kept separate from every other client.

“AggregateIQ has never managed, nor did we ever have access to, any Facebook data or database allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.”

Mr Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica in 2014, has told MPs on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he thought Britain could have voted to remain in the EU without what he called “cheating” by the official Vote Leave campaign.

 Shahmir Sanni turned whistleblower after working for Vote Leave as a volunteer (C4 News)

This followed claims by another whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, who worked for Vote Leave. Mr Sanni told The Guardian that to get round EU referendum campaign spending limits, Vote Leave donated £625,000 to a separate group called BeLeave.

Mr Sanni this money was then spent on hiring AIQ to devise precisely targeted online advertising aimed at persuading people to vote for Brexit.

Mr Wylie told MPs that AIQ had a “significant” conversion rate of between 5 per cent and 7 per cent – and had told him it had targeted five to seven million people for the referendum.

“I think it is completely reasonable to say there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” Mr Wylie said.

The Canadian federal agency charged with protecting privacy rights of individuals said on Thursday that it, along with its counterpart in British Columbia, would jointly investigate Facebook and AIQ over the ongoing data controversy.

British Columbia's privacy commissioner was separately investigating AIQ over whether the Victoria-based company had broken provincial personal privacy rules for its role in the Brexit campaign.

Cambridge Analytica has denied all the claims made against it, and said it deleted everything related to the alleged data breach “in its entirety” in 2015.

In defending itself in connection with data obtained via Facebook, the company has said: “When Facebook contacted us to let us know the data had been improperly obtained, we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system."

Stephen Parkinson, a senior figure in the Vote Leave, denied the group had dodged spending limits and said it had at all times acted entirely within the law and EU referendum regulations.

But in issuing the denial, Mr Parkinson, who is now the prime minister’s political secretary, was accused of revealing a relationship with Mr Sanni, effectively outing the whistleblower as gay.

Mr Parkinson has said it was impossible for the relationship to have “remained private once Shahmir decided to publicise his false claims in this way”.

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