The co-founders of a political advertising firm based in Victoria defended their work Tuesday in Ottawa at a Commons privacy and ethics committee hearing.
AggregateIQ (AIQ) Chief Executive Officer Zackary Massingham and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Silvester spoke to the committee as their company is in the middle of an international privacy scandal.
The company is under investigation in Ottawa, B.C. and the United Kingdom for its role in obtaining millions of Facebook user’s private information to influence the U.K’s 2016 Brexit referendum.
“We have never managed, had access to, or used any Facebook data allegedly improperly obtained by Cambridge Analytica or by anyone else,” Massingham said in his opening statement.
AIQ has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the election consulting company accused of using private Facebook data to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election to help Donald Trump win and aiding the Brexit “Leave” campaign to victory.
Silvester testified AIQ only uses information that is provided to them and does not harvest voter data or perform psychographic profiling.
“We’re not psychologists, we’re tech guys,” Silvester said.
“The ads that we show _ it’s the digital equivalent of an ad on someone’s lawn or on a street corner.”
Victoria-raised Chris Wylie, the whistleblower of the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, told a British parliamentary committee March 27 he “absolutely” believed AIQ drew from Cambridge Analytica databases to target people seen as key to swaying the Brexit referendum.
Wylie presented major allegations against AIQ to the committee, saying under oath the company “bragged” about influencing elections around the world.
Three weeks ago, Facebook announced 87 million of its users’ information was shared with Cambridge Analytica without authorization, including from more than 620,000 Canadians.
Facebook has suspended AIQ, but the Victoria company told the parliamentary committee they are working with the social media platform.
“Facebook is its own company, I can’t speak to why they choose to do things, but I know that they are investigating and we’ve contacted them and offered to cooperate as best we can,” Silvester said.
“And so I’m looking forward to them completing their investigation, and again continuing as good customers on Facebook.”
With files from the Canadian Press.