Who are AggregateIQ, and why are they engaging in cyber-warfare against the privacy of individuals and groups? And why are they doing it on behalf of some of the most ill-disguised fascists in the world?
According to the UK Telegraph, here’s what is publicly known about the company that swung the Brexit vote to a narrow victory for what we all now know is the wrong side:
According to the Electoral Commission figures, no other company or individual was handed more cash during the referendum battle, with the official Vote Leave group spending 40 per cent of its £6.8 million budget on the firm.
Run by a former university administrator, AIQ is a low-profile consultancy that, among other things, specialises in developing highly-targeted Facebook advertising.
Vote Leave officials said the company had been “instrumental” in securing an Out vote in last June’s referendum, after developing sophisticated models to relentlessly hone the campaign’s online message.
AIQ was set up in 2013 by Zack Massingham, a 34-year-old Canadian former university official turned digital marketing guru.
The company has 20 staff and works out of a second floor office in a shopping centre in downtown Victoria, a picturesque city at the southern tip of British Columbia.
Its senior staff keep a very low public profile, fiercely guarding the identity of their clients, who are drawn from across the political spectrum.
They also claim to be politically unaligned, and profess an interest in working with “both sides of the aisle”, according to an unnamed “insider” source quoted by the Torygraph. This rings untrue in light of the fact that they got involved with both the Drumpf campaign AND Brexit…as well as a “centre-right” provincial politician, unnamed as well, right here in Canada, on the part of none other than Zack Massingham himself.
There is, conversely, no mention of them working with any liberal or leftist campaigns. Funny, that. And I don’t see anyone from the centre-left or the left stepping forward to say they worked with them, either.
Meanwhile, an approving quote from the Leave (i.e., pro-Brexit) campaign is prominently displayed on their website. Curiouser and curiouser.
But what about the big fish, Cambridge Analytica, which has been overtly tied to both Drumpf and Brexit, as well as their shady pro-fascist backers, the Mercers? Is there any tie to AggregateIQ?
As luck would have it, there damn well IS:
In March of this year, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, removed a listing for SCL Canada from its site. The phone number was that of Zack Massingham, the director of AggregateIQ. When questioned about it, a spokesman for SCL said it was an outdated listing of a former contractor who had done no work for Vote Leave.
The Observer revealed that billionaire hedge-fund owner and one of the funders of the Trump Presidential campaign, Robert Mercer, was a key figure in Brexit. Andy Wigmore of Leave.EU commented that Mercer is a personal friend of Nigel Farage and that it was he who connected Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica. He said: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us.”
We already know that the “former contractor” who had “done no work for Vote Leave” is, in fact, not “former” at all. And “no work”, to the tune of several hundred thousand British pounds? My goodness gracious me, what a strange, large heap of “nothing” that is!
By the way, there’s a handy chart showing the linkages between these companies, individuals, and campaigns who allegedly know nothing, nothing about one another:
You’ll notice there are quite a lot of familiar names in there. And they’re all famously cozy with one another. Funnily, though, no liberals OR leftists in the lot! Now why do you suppose THAT is?
Oh, maybe because AggregateIQ knew who had the biggest moneybags, and had no qualms about holding their hands out for a piece of that action:
When The Observer asked Veterans for Britain where they heard about Aggregate IQ. David Banks, Veterans for Britain head of communications, said: “I didn’t find AggegrateIQ. They found us. They rang us up and pitched us.”
Well, of COURSE they did. Because that’s how you do it if you’re small but hungry, and you don’t want to get your lunch eaten by the bigger fishes. Just normal business dealings, right?
WRONG. Because AggregateIQ is a Canadian firm, it is bound by Canadian law.
Now, our laws don’t forbid domestic corporations from working for international clients, per se. Canadian firms work internationally all the time, and most of the time, there’s no problem with that. But that’s as long as international clients, in turn, don’t hire them to do anything that would compel them to violate our privacy laws. Or those of other countries, if they have them.
I don’t know exactly what privacy protections, if any, are operative in the US and UK, but here in Canada, we have some rather unique public servants. We have both national and provincial-level privacy commissioners, whose job is, as you may have guessed, to protect the privacy of individuals. And since AIQ’s electronic chicanery is aimed at probing the private data of individual voters and crafting some rather precisely targeted ad campaigns to sway them, that poses a rather large legal problem, right at home in BC, for such a teensy-weensy widdle company:
B.C.’s privacy watchdog has launched an investigation into whether a small Victoria tech company credited with playing a pivotal role in the Brexit vote broke privacy laws.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is reviewing whether AggregateIQ Data Services is complying with the province’s private-sector privacy legislation, known as the Personal Information Protection Act, communications officer Jane Zatylny said in an email.
The act balances an organization’s need to collect personal information for reasonable purposes against an individual’s right to protect their personal information. An organization could face fines up to $100,000 if it doesn’t comply within 30 days of receiving notice from the commissioner, after an investigation.
Well, that could eat up a fair bit of that chunk of change AIQ made in the Brexit campaign, couldn’t it. Especially since the British pound is in freefall since the whole Brexit catastrophe began.
And if you think it can’t have repercussions on the other side of the pond, may I remind you that the B in BC stands for British. And a British Columbian privacy expert is now working, you guessed it, in Britain, and she’s investigating this alongside her Canadian colleagues back home:
An official investigation was launched in May.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham posted an update about the investigation to her office’s blog on Wednesday. Denham was appointed to the position in 2016, after serving in the same role in B.C.
“We’re looking at how personal information was analyzed to target people as part of political campaigning and have been particularly focused on the EU Referendum campaign,” she wrote. “We are concerned about invisible processing — the ‘behind the scenes’ algorithms, analysis, data matching, profiling that involves people’s personal information. When the purpose for using these techniques is related to the democratic process, the case for a high standard of transparency is very strong.”
British law requires organizations to process personal data fairly and transparently, but Denham said she doubts the public understands how that process is unfolding or how it affects personal privacy.
The process has proven a complicated undertaking, she said. Her office is investigating more than 30 organizations, including political parties and social media platforms.
“Among those organizations is AggregateIQ, a Canadian-based company used by a number of the campaigns,” she wrote.
Some of the organizations have co-operated freely, but she said she is prepared to use “every available legal tool” to compel those who don’t.
The office has issued information notices to four organizations, including the U.K. Independence Party, which has appealed the notice to the information rights tribunal.
Zatylny said the B.C. and British offices are working together. “We frequently communicate with other data-protection authorities on files that involve data travelling across borders,” she said. “In this case, we are in discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the U.K. and we may, as part of our investigation, request information from that office.”
So there you have it. The skulduggeries of the Brexiteers, and their Canadian hireling ad firm, are now under the microscope in two countries. I can only hope that the redoubtable Robert Mueller of the US Dept. of Justice is following this…and prepared to hand out some additional subpoenas of his own, on similar grounds.
There is a very good reason why I set my browser to disable advertising trackers, and I suggest you do the same with yours. This is part of that reason. If you need help doing so, visit the EFF website.
As for AIQ, I’d wish them some interesting times, in the
Chinese British-curse sense of the word…but I see they’re already having them.