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Facebook, AggregateIQ now being jointly probed by Canada, B.C. data watchdogs

Natasha Lomas
Privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia are combining existing

Privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia are combining existing investigations into Facebook and AggregateIQ. The latter being a Victoria-based ad targeting tech company that has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the center of the Facebook data misuse storm.

Facebook responds to data misuse


CA whistleblower Chris Wylie -- who last month gave public testimony revealing how millions of Facebook users' data was passed to his former employer for political ad targeting -- has described AggregateIQ as the Canadian arm of CA's parent entity, SCL. (Although AggregateIQ has denied any affiliation with CA or SCL, claiming on its website "it is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated".)

"The investigations will examine whether the organizations [Aggregate IQ and Facebook] are in compliance with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act(PIPEDA) and BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)," said Canada's watchdog in a statement about the now joint investigation.

"The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC opened its investigation into AggregateIQ late last year. Last month, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada launched an investigation into allegations about unauthorized access and use of Facebook user profiles.

"The two offices decided to jointly investigate these matters as Facebook and AggregateIQ are subject to both PIPEDA and PIPA."

The statement does not go into any new detail about the investigations as it notes they are ongoing.

The OPCC's Facebook investigation, which was launched on March 20, followed a complaint against the company. Facebook has since confirmed that more than 620k Canadian users had their data scraped and passed to CA -- the majority of whom would not have consented or even known their information was being shared in this way.

Meanwhile AggregateIQ's role in the UK's 2016 Brexit referendum vote has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in the country, following a lengthy investigation by the Observer of London looking at links between the various entities involved and how money was spent by different groups campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union.

The company received £3.5M from leave campaign groups in the run up to the 2016 referendum, and has been described by leave campaigners as instrumental in securing their win.

AggregateIQ is now among 30 companies being investigated by the UK's data watchdog, the ICO, as part of an ongoing (and now almost year-long) investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are also part of that probe.

Giving an update on the investigation yesterday, the ICO said it looking at "how data was collected from a third party app on Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica".

The watchdog secured a warrant to enter and search the London offices of CA last month.

The UK's Electoral Commission is also investigation Brexit campaign spending -- and has previously asked Facebook, Twitter and Google to provide information about ad spending linked to Russia.

Earlier this month Facebook revealed it had removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook Pages, and 65 Instagram accounts run by the Russian government-connected troll farm the Internet Research Agency.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the now joint Canadian and British Columbian data probe.

It's also facing shareholder lawsuits and a probe by the FTC into the data misuse scandal, among others.