(Flickr)

B.C. firm tied to Facebook scandal got $100K from feds in 2017

AggregateIQ received the one-time contribution from the National Research Council

The B.C. company at the heart of the international scandal over the unauthorized use of Facebook information received $100,000 in federal funding last year to develop data-driven tools for political campaigns, The Canadian Press has learned.

AggregateIQ Data Services Ltd. received the one-time contribution from the National Research Council for a nine-month project aimed at developing digital tools to predict who would turn out to vote and the likelihood of supporting a specific candidate, and to predict the outcome of a campaign’s communications strategy.

The company is under investigation by privacy officials in Ottawa, B.C. and the United Kingdom for its role in influencing the outcome of the U.K.’s Brexit referendum. It is also under investigation for allegedly violating limits on spending during that campaign to benefit the “leave” side.

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

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

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

AggregateIQ has said it has always complied with the law and has denied ever being part of Cambridge Analytica or its parent firm, SCL. It has also said it never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica, nor has it ever had access to Facebook data allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.

The privacy controversy has put a spotlight on the use of data by political parties, which depend heavily on access to quality data about voters to target their campaign pitches.

In the months following the 2016 Brexit and Trump victories, the National Research Council provided AggregateIQ with $100,000 in funding, under the Industrial Research Assistance Program, to support a $250,000 project by the company.

A copy of the funding agreement, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, says the project’s objective was to create tools to help political campaigns accurately predict voter turnouts, the likelihood of support for a specific candidate and the effectiveness of a given campaign communications strategy.

“At the completion of the project, AggregateIQ will have an agnostic campaign data reporting platform that will enable our staff to provide more efficient consulting in the work we do as well as sell access to the tool for other organizations to use,” reads the agreement.

“This will make our consulting business able to handle more clients and open a new line of revenue in sales and support of a much needed tool in the campaign space.”

The NRC’s project with AggregateIQ was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2017, and end Sept. 30, 2017. The agreement also contained a section that outlined “ethical” considerations.

“While this project relies heavily on the collection of data to support analytics and decision making, the data that will be collected is either a data derivative or anonymous data,” the document said, stressing that none of data would have information that could be used to identify individuals.

“With no personal data and no data that could be matched back to an individual, we believe that the project meets all ethical requirements and does not require further ethical review,” the agreement said.

In its pitch to NRC, the company, which said it employed 10 people at the time, wrote that it would provide $148,620 towards the project.

The company also stressed the demand for such a political tool — and referenced the Trump and Brexit campaigns as examples.

“As is evidenced by the recent election between Trump and Clinton, or with the U.K. EU referendum, the traditional polling companies are unable to accurately predict outcomes,” the document said.

“Political decision makers are turning to internal data analytics to decide where to spend money, allocate resources and ultimately find out if they are going to win.”

The Canadian Press sought comment from AggregateIQ’s chief operating officer, Jeff Silvester, who is listed in the agreement as the company’s representative, but received no response. The agreement was signed by AggregateIQ’s CEO, Zackary Massingham.

Canadian data expert Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of Facebook data, has claimed he helped found AggregateIQ while he worked for SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. He has said he “absolutely” believes AggregateIQ drew on Cambridge Analytica’s databases for its work on the Brexit campaign.

On Thursday, the federal and British Columbia privacy commissioners announced they are joining forces to investigate Facebook and AggregateIQ.

The federal privacy watchdog first launched an investigation last month to look into allegations about the unauthorized access of private Facebook data. It broadened its probe to join the B.C. privacy czar’s ongoing probe of the Victoria-based AggregateIQ, which began late last year, to determine whether the company broke privacy laws.

A spokesman for the National Research Council said last year’s funding agreement with AggregateIQ was “the first and only collaboration with the company.”

“The Industrial Research Assistance Program works with firms under specific and strict terms and conditions, and evaluates each project on an individual basis, following a rigorous process,” said Charles Drouin.

— with files from Associated Press

Andy Blatchford and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Avalanche Canada issues special public warning

Very weak layer buried under recent snow a cause for concern

Coffee card donations return at Wait’s News

The program supplied over 200 cards last year

Nelson won’t restrict parking amnesty to West Kootenay

So far, more than 800 people have responded with amnesty payments

Annual Polar Bear Swim set for Jan. 1

The event is organized by Kootenay Co-op Radio

Coldest Night of the Year walk set for Feb. 23

The annual event raises money for Nelson CARES ‘Ready for Home’ program

Omar Khadr wants changes to bail conditions

‘My life is held in suspension’, says the former Guantanamo Bay detainee

Sissons scores OT winner as Predators beat Canucks 4-3

VIDEO: Vancouver battles back to earn single point in Nashville

Lions announce seven members of coaching staff not coming back for 2019

The operational moves come two days after the Lions announced DeVone Claybrooks as the team’s new head coach

$12K awarded to atheist family who oppose Christmas, Hanukkah in B.C. classroom

Gary Mangel,May Yasue said holidays, Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day not appropriate in preschool

Coach accused of sexual assault says apology letter was misinterpreted

Dave Brubaker has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of invitation to sexual touching

Give the gift of nature this holiday season

Please don’t be mad, but I bought you a moose

Aboriginal poet faces backlash for calling out NHL-themed totem poles

Rebecca Thomas says she received backlash for asking a drugstore chain to remove NHL merchandise

No plans yet for free WiFi on BC Transit buses

BC Transit says they are monitoring the roll-out of free WiFi on Translink vehicles

Some Kotex tampons recalled in Canada and U.S.

In some cases, tampon users sought medical attention “to remove tampon pieces left in the body.”

Most Read