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BC Politics

Stone Leadership Campaign Hired Online Company That Helped Win Brexit

AggregateIQ under investigation for use of ‘data analytics for political purposes.’

Andrew MacLeod 9 Jan

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The campaign of BC Liberal Party leadership candidate Todd Stone has hired a social media advertising company that is under investigation by officials in British Columbia and the United Kingdom following its role in the Brexit Vote Leave campaign.

Stephen Smart, Stone’s campaign communications director, confirmed in an email that AggregateIQ “is supporting our campaign with the maintenance and marketing of our digital campaign assets.”

Following the 2016 Brexit vote, campaign disclosures showed that Vote Leave campaigners spent £3.5 million — about $5.75 million — with AggregateIQ, run by CEO Zack Massingham in downtown Victoria.

That was more than the Leave side paid any other company or individual during the campaign and about 40 per cent of its spending ahead of the referendum that saw Britons narrowly vote to exit the European Union.

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, who previously held a similar position in B.C., announced in May a formal investigation “into the use of data analytics for political purposes.”

“We are concerned about invisible processing – the ‘behind the scenes’ algorithms, analysis, data matching, profiling that involves people’s personal information,” Denham wrote in a December blog posting. “When the purpose for using these techniques is related to the democratic process, the case for a high standard of transparency is very strong.”

The investigation is complicated, she wrote. “It’s a complex and far-reaching investigation, involving over 30 organisations including political parties and campaigns, data companies and social media platforms. Among those organisations is AggregateIQ, a Canadian-based company, used by a number of the campaigns.”

While some organizations were co-operating, others were not, and her office would use its full powers to investigate, she said. “It is still too soon for me to speculate on the outcome of our investigation.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in B.C. told The Tyee last May that it is co-ordinating with Denham’s office on that review.

In December, the Times Colonist reported that the privacy commissioner is reviewing whether AggregateIQ is complying with the Personal Information Protection Act, which is privacy legislation that applies to the private sector.

Stone was unavailable for an interview.

“Like many modern political campaigns, our team recognizes the importance of having a strong digital presence, particularly to help reach younger voters,” Smart said. “Our campaign maintains complete control of all voter and supporter information that is gathered through the use of these digital tools.”

AggregateIQ develops advertising to be used on sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, then targets messages to audiences who are likely to be receptive.

Massingham did not immediately respond to a call and an email requesting his comments Monday.

The Tyee reported in March on the links between AggregateIQ and SCL Group, whose website says it has worked to influence election outcomes in 19 countries. Its associated company in the U.S., Cambridge Analytica, has worked on a wide range of campaigns, including Donald Trump’s presidential bid.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, BC Politics

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