AggregateIQ: the obscure Canadian tech firm and the Brexit data riddle
‘Find Christopher Wylie.” That instruction – 13 months ago – came from the very first ex-Cambridge Analytica employee I met. He was unequivocal. Wylie would have answers to the two questions that were troubling me most. He could tell me about Facebook. And he would know about Canada.
What Christopher Wylie knows about Facebook, the world now knows. Facebook certainly knows – its market value is down $100bn. But the Canadian connection remains more elusive. What it is. Why it matters. And why it triggered my search for Wylie.
We heard from him at a session of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee that the BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy described as “by a distance, the most astounding thing I’ve seen in parliament”. Perhaps not because of Wylie’s arresting appearance – though there was that too, his pink hair offset with a suit for the occasion – but because of what he said: a four-hour account of his involvement with Cambridge Analytica that he backed up with documents, a selection of which the committee published two days later.
It was a moment that marked a significant milestone in our coverage of this story. Because back on 13 May 2017 we received a letter from Squire Patton Boggs, lawyers for Cambridge Analytica, that set out their intention to issue a “pre-action protocol for defamation” – though its immediate concern was regarding an “article that is proposed to be published this weekend”.
Seven fraught hours later, we published an article headlined “Follow the data” . It was centred on one particular document. A document that linked Cambridge Analytica to a small, seemingly inconsequential firm based above an optician’s shop in Victoria, Canada. A document that was among the stash of those released by the DCMS committee on Thursday.
The firm – AggregateIQ – didn’t appear inconsequential. In the words of Vote Leave’s campaign manager, Dominic Cummings, it played a crucial role in the Brexit campaign. For more than a year, a quote from Cummings – “we couldn’t have done it without them” – was emblazoned across AIQ’s website. Words that disappeared from the website a week ago, removed after we submitted our questions to the firm.