Facebook has found ‘connections’ between Canadian ad firm AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica

Brexit campaigners.

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Brexit campaigners.
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REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

  • Facebook has found “billing and administration connections” between Canadian ad firm AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica, despite the two firms denying they have links.
  • Reports suggested that AggregateIQ may have improperly accessed Facebook data originally harvested by Cambridge Analytica, then used that data to push Brexit-related ads and pages to voters in 2016 – but both firms have denied this.
  • Facebook also said that, while AggregateIQ had spent $2 million on Brexit-related pages, it probably hadn’t used the data harvested by Cambridge Analytica.
  • Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer is being grilled by UK politicians on Thursday morning about the firm’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook has discovered connections between Canadian data firm AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica, despite the two firms consistently denying any mutual involvement.

In evidence handed to British politicians on Thursday, Facebook wrote that it found “certain billing and administration connections” between the two firms. In oral evidence, he added that this included “similar people showing up” in Facebook’s accounts with the companies.

Facebook also said AggregateIQ had spent approximately $2 million on pages relating to the Brexit vote in 2016.

The company wrote: “Our records show that AIQ spent approximately $2M USD on ads from pages that appear to be associated with the 2016 Referendum.”

Facebook said it had passed this information on to the UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is investigating the matter.

Any link between Cambridge Analytica, AggregateIQ, and Facebook is significant in the wake of revelations that 87 million users’ Facebook profiles were harvested and handed to Cambridge Analytica. The fear is that both Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ may have used the improperly gathered data to target ads at voters in the Brexit referendum in 2016, and the US presidential election the same year.

That’s something both firms deny, but the UK Information Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating Cambridge Analytica and whether it harvested and used Facebook user profiles for political advertising.

AggregateIQ, which bills itself as a digital ads firm, has denied a direct link with Cambridge Analytica. It sent legal threats to The Observer newspaper, which originally drew the link between the different companies and reported that AggregateIQ was involved in the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign. According to the newspaper, Vote Leave spent £3.9 million ($5.5 million) on AggregateIQ.

Facebook suspended AggregateIQ earlier this month because it may have improperly accessed that user data. But in its testimony to politicians on Thursday, Facebook said it didn’t believe AggregateIQ did use information harvested from its platform to target Brexit ads at voters.

Schroepfer said AggregateIQ used a list of email addresses to target Facebook adverts during Brexit. The Facebook data obtained by Cambridge Analytica, which was harvested by an app created by data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, did not include email addresses.

“AIQ must have obtained these email addresses for British voters targeted in these campaigns from a different source,” Schroepfer added.

Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, appeared before politicians on Thursday morning to explain the firm’s advertising practices, and its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.