Legal letter prompts The Observer to issue clarification over claims linking Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ data firms

The Observer has backtracked on claims that Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ is directly linked to Cambridge Analytica, the company at the heart of the growing scandal around the alleged misuse of Facebook user data.

The paper said it had received a legal letter from Aggregate IQ distancing itself from Cambridge Analytica’s “alleged wrongdoing”.

The letter was in response to reports by journalist Carole Cadwalladr that exposed CA’s alleged harvesting of 50m Facebook users’ data to influence the 2016 US presidential election

Subsequent stories have examined the links between Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ and Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign.

Cadwalladr’s latest piece, published on the weekend, claimed that until one week ago, AIQ’s website featured a quote from Vote Leave campaign manager Dominic Cummings, which read: “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The article claimed that documents published last week by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, following oral evidence by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, “finally make the legal connection between Aggregate IQ and Cambridge Analytica public”.

It also revealed that AIQ sent The Observer a legal letter prompting a clarification that was printed on the letters page (page 50) in Sunday’s Observer.

The clarification, also published at the bottom of two online articles on Thursday last week, backtracked on previous suggestions that Aggregate IQ is directly linked to Cambridge Analytica, which is an offshoot of SCL Group.

It read: “We are happy to clarify that we did not intend to suggest that Aggregate IQ is a direct part and/or the Canadian branch of Cambridge Analytica, or that it has been involved in the exploitation of Facebook data, or otherwise been involved in any of the alleged wrongdoing made against Cambridge Analytica.

“Further, we did not intend to suggest that AIQ secretly and unethically co-ordinated with Cambridge Analytica on the EU referendum.

“We are happy to make clear that Aggregate IQ is and has always been 100 per cent Canadian owned and operated.”

The legal letter also said AIQ did not share technology with CA, it never represented itself as SCL Canada, and “the first it knew of its phone number being on the website was when the Observer reported it”.

The clarification referenced two news articles published in the past week, headlined: “Revealed: the ties that bound Canadian data firm to Leave campaign in referendum” and “Revealed: Brexit insider claims Vote Leave team ‘may have broken the law’.”

Both headlines have now been changed online.

The first now reads: “Revealed: the ties that bound Vote Leave’s data firm to controversial Cambridge Analytica,” while the second says: “Revealed: Brexit insider claims Vote Leave team may have breached spending limits.”

Wylie told MPs last week that he had helped set up both CA and AIQ and that it was only based in Canada because the directors had new families and did not want to move to the UK.

He said: “The compromise was that a Canadian company would be set up… But the deal was that they would sign an intellectual property licence whereby all of the work that they were doing for the company would be assigned to SCL Group and they would trade as SCL Canada, but they set up a Canadian entity, and the legal name was Aggregate IQ.”

The Observer is not a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation but instead regulates itself.

Picture: Parliament TV

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