Facebook suspends data firm linked to UK's Vote Leave campaign – Financial Times

Facebook has suspended a data analytics firm that played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign during the UK’s Brexit referendum, adding to questions over whether the personal data of millions of users that leaked from the social network helped sway the result.

The firm, AggregateIQ, is said by a whistleblower to have been associated with Cambridge Analytica, the UK company accused of illicitly obtaining information about 87m Facebook users.

Cambridge Analytica was suspended from the social network last month after claims it had secretly retained the data years after Facebook ordered it to be deleted, triggering a political storm on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, has said that the Facebook data may have been used by AggregateIQ and helped to support the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. A self-proclaimed Eurosceptic, Mr Wylie told a UK parliamentary committee last month that the data was the “foundational dataset” for AggregateIQ algorithms.

The company, which is based in British Columbia, could not immediately be reached for comment late on Friday. A statement posted on its website reads: “AggregateIQ has never managed, nor did we ever have access to, any Facebook data or database allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.” It also says it is not “a part of” and has not “entered into a contract with” the UK company.

Facebook said late on Friday that it had suspended AggregateIQ from its network, as it continues to investigate the claims.

However, it did not level any direct allegations against the Canadian company. Instead, it said it had suspended it “in light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with [Cambridge Analytica parent] SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received FB user data.”

The action comes as Facebook gets ready to step into a fresh political spotlight next week, with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg due to testify about the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Capitol Hill.

Mr Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg prepared the ground this week with remorseful media interviews and public expressions of regret. The company has announced moves to show it is tightening its controls and cracking down on abuses.

Vote Leave spent almost half its campaign budget on AggregateIQ in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. A whistleblower from another campaign group, called BeLeave, has alleged that Vote Leave funnelled even more money into AggregateIQ through the smaller organisation, in what would amount to a breach of Electoral Commission rules. Vote Leave has strongly denied co-ordinating its campaign with BeLeave.

Commenting on AggregateIQ’s alleged use of the personal information taken from Facebook, Mr Wylie told MPs last month: “It’s farcical to say that AggregateIQ didn’t have access to the Facebook data when they were building the software to deploy it. You can’t do online advertising without access to the data — you just can’t.”

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