B.C. firm linked to Facebook data scandal defends its political work

AggregateIQ says it helps customers craft messages for online political ads, use data for campaigns

The co-founders of a B.C. company at the centre of the international scandal over the alleged inappropriate use of Facebook data are defending their work in support of political campaigns around the globe.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Jeff Silvester of the B.C.-based political advertising firm AggregateIQ says the company helps its customers craft their messages for online political ads and how to effectively make use of data for their campaigns.

But Silvester, the firm’s chief operating officer, insists AggregateIQ does not harvest data and only uses what it is provided — nor does it undertake any kind of voter profiling, including psychographic profiling.

He says the company’s work differs little from what political campaigns in Canada do to promote a candidate or a party, such as putting up lawn signs, sending volunteers to knock on doors and making phone calls.

The Victoria firm has been suspended by Facebook and is under investigation by privacy commissioners in Ottawa, B.C. and the United Kingdom for its role in a controversy that allegedly involved a breach of millions of users’ private information to help the “Leave” side win the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

READ MORE: B.C., federal privacy watchdogs to probe possible privacy breaches at Aggregate IQ, Facebook

READ MORE: Victoria firm tied to Facebook scandal got $100K from feds in 2017

AggregateIQ has also been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy firm accused of improperly accessing the private Facebook data to help the Leave campaign in Brexit as well as Donald Trump’s winning 2016 U.S. presidential bid.

In his testimony Tuesday, Silvester said AggregateIQ has always complied with laws in Canada and abroad. He also disputed allegations raised by Canadian data expert and whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, saying AggregateIQ has never been part of Cambridge Analytica nor its parent company, SCL.

“We are not data harvesters by any stretch of the imagination and, certainly, we don’t do psychographic profiling or profiling of any other type,” he told the committee on access to information, privacy and ethics, which is holding hearings this month on the data breach involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

“We’re not psychologists, we’re tech guys.”

Efforts by volunteers and political candidates themselves to persuade voters are no different from the work of AggregateIQ, he added.

“The ads that we show — it’s the digital equivalent of an ad on someone’s lawn or on a street corner,” he said.

“You choose where you want it go, you put your message on there and people drive by and see it. And it’s the same for the internet and same with going door to door and the same with making phone calls.”

Facebook estimates the personal information of 622,161 users in Canada — and nearly 87 million worldwide — was improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Driver in North Shuswap observed vomiting after crashing vehicle, then running

Chase RCMP say woman was impaired, given 90-day driving prohibition

RCMP called in North Shuswap about vehicle with U.S. licence plates

Police summoned on July 4 regarding car parked with California plates

Motorcycle rider seriously injured in collision with vehicle west of Pritchard

Chase RCMP report that motorcycle was attempting to pass when crash occurred

Road repaired after landslide in Seymour Arm

A temporary fix for a damaged water system has also been completed

Input wanted on cannabis grow near Gardom Lake

A temporary use permit is being considered for a Capri Road property

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Summerland Ornamental Gardens remain closed

Staff and volunteers continue to weed and maintain plants

Kelowna taxpayers could pay $90K for losses caused by cancelled Memorial Cup

$135,000 would be put aside for a potential bid for a future opportunity to host the tournament

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Predator mutilated cats in Kelowna: BC SPCA

The BC SPCA confirmed a mutilated cat was killed by a predator

LETTER: Former Summerland mayors speak out on solar project

Five former Summerland mayors sign name to short letter

Emergency crews conduct CPR on unresponsive person in Okanagan Lake

West Kelowna emergency crews are on scene at the shores of Jubilee Mobile Home Park

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Most Read