Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
B.C. firm delivered microtargeted political ads without consent
AggregateIQ failed to meet its obligations under Canadian privacy laws when it used and disclosed the personal information of millions of voters in British Columbia, the United States and the United Kingdom, an investigation has found.
AggregateIQ Data Services Ltd. (AIQ) is a Victoria-based company that provides election-related software and political advertising services. AIQ has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, a company caught up in a global scandal involving the microtargeting of voters in various political campaigns.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada jointly conducted the investigation, which focused on whether AIQ was meeting legal obligations relating to consent and safeguarding personal information in connection with work it performed for certain political campaigns.
The two offices found AIQ failed to ensure appropriate consent for its use and disclosure of the personal information of voters. The company did not take reasonable steps to ensure that consent obtained by its international clients was valid for its practices in Canada. As well, the company did not take reasonable security measures to protect personal information, leading to a privacy breach in 2018.
“It is imperative that the activities of tech companies operating across borders respect privacy obligations in all jurisdictions in which they operate,” said Michael McEvoy, information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia. “That is especially the case when it comes to handling sensitive information like the psychological profiles described in this investigation report.”
Daniel Therrien, federal privacy commissioner, said, “The AIQ investigation shows how sensitive personal information can be used by political campaigns to sway voters. This highlights once again the urgent need for law reform to protect democratic processes and the fundamental human right to privacy. The federal government has said that Parliament should study how to bring federal parties under privacy legislation. We urge the government to move quickly with this review and amend the law.”
The AIQ investigation was launched after media reports raised concerns related to that company’s involvement in the 2016 Brexit referendum on the U.K.’s membership in the European Union. Subsequent reporting linked the company to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections Ltd. (SCL), its parent.
AIQ worked with SCL on various U.S. political campaigns between 2014 and 2016. These included midterm elections and a presidential primary campaign.