In his re-election marketing campaign’s ultimate hours, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is still deploying a smartphone app created by way of a instrument staff on the center of the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
The app, Cruz Crew, used to be evolved by way of AggregateIQ, a small Canadian knowledge company that used to be for years the lead developer utilized by the notorious knowledge analytics consultancy that made headlines final spring for harvesting person knowledge on hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Facebook customers whilst running for the Trump marketing campaign. Since that company’s dying, AggregateIQ has change into one center of attention of a world investigation into alleged knowledge misdeeds all through the 2016 Brexit marketing campaign, and is the primary corporate to be centered by way of regulators underneath Europe’s new knowledge privateness regulation.
Both Cruz Crew in addition to an app for Cruz’s presidential marketing campaign in 2016 proportion an interconnected historical past of builders and shoppers connected to Cambridge Analytica, its British associate SCL Elections, and designers of the Republican Party’s fresh virtual efforts. Part of a team of apps offered as walled-garden social networks for political supporters, the instrument is helping campaigns gather voter knowledge and microtarget messages.
In April, Facebook introduced it had suspended AggregateIQ over its imaginable unsuitable get entry to to the information of hundreds of thousands of Facebook customers. But over a dozen apps made by way of AggregateIQ remained hooked up to Facebook’s platform till May and June, when Facebook belatedly took motion towards them.
A Facebook spokesperson informed Fast Company that it used to be still investigating AIQ’s imaginable misuse of knowledge, amid an ongoing investigation by way of Canadian prosecutors. The Cruz marketing campaign didn’t reply to requests for remark.
David Carroll, a professor at Parsons School of Design on the New School in New York, who has introduced a criminal problem towards SCL and Cambridge Analytica for unencumber of his voter knowledge profile, stated Cruz’s persisted relationships with AggregateIQ highlighted issues of using knowledge by way of a rising ecosystem of partisan election apps and databases. The dangers are specifically top, he stated, when the distributors are combining knowledge from a couple of resources and processing Americans’ knowledge out of the country.
“Despite the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, it sort of feels that the Republican knowledge gadget is still a shadowy community that comes with global operators, twisted up with distributors underneath intense scrutiny for illegal behavior in a couple of jurisdictions,” he stated. “I don’t perceive why Republicans don’t insist on running with home tech distributors and technologists who’re U.S. electorate.”
The Cruz-Cambridge Analytica connection
During the 2016 race, a U.S.-based instrument company named Political Social Media, however higher referred to as uCampaign, used to be credited as developer and writer for the reliable “Ted Cruz 2016” presidential number one app. At the time, the app completed modest notoriety as a reasonably novel knowledge assortment instrument– showing along Cambridge Analytica underneath headlines like, “Cruz App Data Collection Helps Campaign Read Minds of Voters”–with the app colloquially referred to within the press as “Cruz Crew.”
As in 2016, the 2018 Cruz re-election marketing campaign is determined by consistent polling and voter modeling to know and goal mainstream conservatives in Texas. Cruz and his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, who has time and again introduced up Cambridge Analytica all through the marketing campaign and has refused to make use of giant knowledge analytics, have each closely invested in social media. The media blitz hasn’t been affordable: According to knowledge from the Center for Responsive Politics, the applicants within the 2018 Texas Senate race have set the all-time report for most monetary spent in any U.S. Senate election.
As a part of its virtual push, the Cruz marketing campaign rolled out a new app, formally named “Cruz Crew,” which awards issues to customers for tweeting pro-Cruz messages, volunteering, and collaborating in different marketing campaign actions. On the app’s pages within the Google and Apple retail outlets, AggregateIQ is now not discussed, however its identify is visual because the developer within the app URL and in inside code. The app’s writer is indexed because the political advertising and marketing company WPA Intelligence, or WPAi.
Chris Wilson, WPAi’s founder and leader government, is a veteran GOP pollster who up to now labored for George W. Bush and Karl Rove. WPAi’s previous marketing campaign successes come with a trio of top profile Tea Party-cum-Freedom Caucus sympathizer senators: Cruz, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). By a ways, alternatively, Cruz has been WPA’s greatest political shopper within the U.S. Between his bids for senator and president, Cruz marketing campaign committees have paid out over $4.3 million to Chris Wilson’s company since 2011.
As the director of study, analytics and virtual technique for Cruz’s 2016 presidential marketing campaign, Wilson oversaw a huge knowledge staff that incorporated Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica. Rebekah’s father, Robert Mercer, footed the $5.8 million invoice for Cambridge Analytica by way of doubling that quantity in donations.
Wilson and the Cruz staff have time and again stated that Cambridge Analytica represented to the marketing campaign that the entire knowledge it had used to be legally received. They additionally claimed that Cambridge didn’t ship the consequences anticipated of them, neither via their much-discussed psychographics paintings nor via crucial piece of instrument referred to as Ripon.
In schematics, Ripon used to be drawn up as an all-in-one marketing campaign strategy to arrange voter knowledge assortment, advert concentrated on, and side road canvassing. According to information retrieved by way of pc safety analyst Chris Vickery, Ripon used to be meant to faucet into one thing referred to as “the Database of Truth.” Documents published that the Truth mission “integrates, obtains, and normalizes knowledge from disparate resources,” starting with the Republican National Committee’s Data Trust database, blended “with state voter information, client knowledge, third-party knowledge suppliers, historic WPA survey, and tasks and buyer knowledge.”
Despite being a deliverable promised by way of Cambridge Analytica, the paintings on Ripon used to be outsourced to AggregateIQ. More lately, WPAi employed the company to increase and arrange the instrument for Cruz Crew, in conjunction with its two different lately to be had apps: one for Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s re-election marketing campaign, and one for Osnova, a Ukrainian political celebration devoted to the long-shot presidential aspirations of its oligarch founder, Serhiy Taruta.
In the 2018 race, WPAi and the Cruz marketing campaign have stated Cruz’s effort isn’t using new Cambridge Analytica-style “psychographic” modeling, nevertheless it is using social media knowledge for particular concentrated on, and depending on earlier marketing campaign knowledge. “We use social knowledge to ID voter teams in our core universes,” WPA’s Chris Wilson up to now informed Fast Company. “A large number of the ones are 2016 electorate who we all know are persuaded by way of particular messages.”
Cruz Crew and TedCruz.org lately proportion a privateness coverage has slightly modified since past due 2015, when Cambridge Analytica and uCampaign had been Cruz distributors. In each instances, the coverage states that the marketing campaign might “get entry to, gather, and retailer non-public details about different those that is to be had to us via your touch listing,” fit the information to knowledge from different resources, and “stay monitor of your instrument’s geographic location.”
Beyond the prevailing marketing campaign app, alternatively, AIQ’s present involvement within the Cruz marketing campaign’s knowledge control and instrument construction is unknown. A record by way of the New York Times final month discovered that after customers shared their buddies’ touch data with the Cruz app, that knowledge used to be still being despatched to AggregateIQ domain names.
Wilson informed the Times that his corporate, now not AggregateIQ, gained and regulated app customers’ data. Representatives for AggregateIQ didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark, and WPAi didn’t reply to questions concerning the knowledge company.
AIQ, based in 2013 in Victoria, British Columbia, is lately underneath investigation within the U.Ok. and its homebase of Canada for electoral impropriety all through the Brexit Leave marketing campaign. The corporate’s identify has arise time and again in parliamentary testimony for its alleged marketing campaign finance and information coverage misdeeds in reference to the mum or dad corporate of Cambridge Analytica.
“Concerns were raised concerning the closeness of the two organizations together with tips that AIQ, [SCL Elections, and Cambridge Analytica] had been, in impact, one and the similar entity,” mentioned a fresh record by way of the U.Ok.’s Information Commissioner’s Office.
In testimony to a U.Ok. parliamentary committee, former Cambridge Analytica government Brittany Kaiser stated that AggregateIQ used to be the unique virtual and information engineering spouse of SCL, the British mum or dad associate of Analytica.
“They would construct our instrument, comparable to a platform that we designed for Senator Ted Cruz’s marketing campaign,” she stated. “That used to be supposed to assemble knowledge for canvassing people who would move door-to-door amassing and hygiening knowledge of people in the ones families. We additionally had no inside virtual capability on the time, so we didn’t in truth adopt any of our virtual campaigns. That used to be performed solely via AggregateIQ.”
AIQ founders Zack Massingham and Jeff Silvester have been introduced into the fold a yr prior by way of their buddy Christopher Wylie, then an SCL worker, who blew the whistle at the company’s practices previous this yr. According to Wylie, the founders registered their corporate of their place of origin of Victoria as a results of an SCL contract, which therefore resulted in political paintings within the Caribbean.
After the two companies first made touch in August 2013, whilst SCL used to be appearing its first American political paintings within the Virginia gubernatorial race, AIQ designed answers for deployment in campaigns underneath SCL’s supervision in Trinidad and Tobago. Part of the intent, in line with information received by way of the Globe and Mail, used to be to reap the web histories of as much as 1.3 million civilians to be able to extra appropriately type their psychographics for message concentrated on.
In December 2013, an SCL worker proposed asking for the information from the rustic’s web supplier by way of posing as educational researchers, whilst looking for to tie web addresses to billing addresses, with out naming consumers. In reaction, AIQ CEO Massingham answered by way of e-mail that he may just use each bit of knowledge they might get. “If the billing addresses are obfuscated, we’ll have a tricky time touching on issues again to a actual particular person or family,” he wrote. It stays unknown if that knowledge used to be received.
The number one paintings AIQ carried out used to be to design instrument which may be used to inspire volunteers, canvassers, and electorate. This instrument thought used to be repeated for a couple of shoppers, together with Petronas, an oil corporate that sought to persuade electorate in Malaysia.
AggregateIQ’s paintings around the pond
During the U.Ok.’s Brexit marketing campaign in 2016, Vote Leave employed AIQ to put on-line advertisements, with AIQ paying for all 1,034 Facebook advertisements run by way of the marketing campaign. AIQ’s services and products had been additionally retained to increase and administer a piece of instrument that Vote Leave executives, together with leader era officer and previous SCL worker Thomas Borwick, later credited with a huge portion of the marketing campaign’s luck.
Vote Leave marketing campaign director Dominic Cummings wrote an in depth weblog publish concerning the mission, referred to as the Voter Intention Collection System (VICS).
“One of our central concepts used to be that the marketing campaign needed to do issues within the box of knowledge that experience by no means been performed sooner than,” Cummings wrote. “This incorporated a) integrating knowledge from social media, web advertising, web sites, apps, canvassing, junk mail, polls, on-line fundraising, activist comments . . . and b) having professionals in physics and gadget studying do right kind knowledge science in the way in which solely they are able to, i.e. a ways past the traditional talents implemented in political campaigns.”
As the voter-facing entrance finish for the Leave marketing campaign knowledge staff, uCampaign used to be introduced in and paid by way of AIQ to ship the smartphone apps that helped to assemble customers’ mobile numbers, e-mail addresses, telephone ebook contacts, and Facebook IDs for integration, precisely because it had performed all through the former months for the Cruz 2016 marketing campaign. Just as if that’s the case, the app accumulated voter data to be used in AIQ gear.
“We may just solely do that correctly if we had right kind canvassing instrument,” Cummings wrote. “We constructed it in part in-house and in part using an exterior engineer who we sat in our place of business for months.”
AIQ’s Zach Massingham time and again flew to the U.Ok. as his corporate used to be paid hundred of 1000’s of kilos for its Vote Leave paintings in 2016 after a sequence of transactions between a number of campaigns that Canadian officers have wondered as “cash laundering” and British government are investigating as legal offenses. Nonetheless, after the referendum, Cummings launched an open-source model of VICS code on Github for long run micro-targeters to make use of.
In early 2018, one of Vote Leave and SCL vet Thomas Borwick’s handful of knowledge companies, Kanto, used to be employed to do canvassing and social media paintings all through the Irish abortion referendum. Anti-abortion activist teams additionally gotten smaller uCampaign to construct two separate apps, which alarmed marketing campaign finance and privateness watchdogs and resulted in a ban on web promoting.
As with uCampaign, which has additionally made apps for the likes of Donald Trump and the NRA, AIQ’s smartphone apps had been designed to assemble data by means of Facebook Login, a instrument presented by way of Facebook to streamline person registration around the web. Though Facebook tightened some restrictions this yr as a direct reaction to the Analytica flare-up, Login has allowed third-party builders to achieve get entry to to a wide variety of Facebook account details about registered customers.
As a part of its investigation into Cambridge Analytica and its associates, on April 7, Facebook stated that it had suspended AIQ, successfully finishing its skill to deploy Facebook Login. However, safety researcher Chris Vickery found out that AIQ’s get entry to to the Facebook platform used to be still lively as of May 17. Additionally, he discovered, AIQ had already accumulated information on just about 800,000 Facebook account IDs in a database, with many matched to addresses and speak to numbers. Facebook got rid of extra AIQ apps two weeks later, nevertheless it used to be now not till June 19 that the Facebook Login function used to be got rid of from the apps for Cruz, Osnova, and Abbott.
In written testimony to Parliament, AIQ leader era officer Jeff Silvester, who visited British top minister Theresa May’s place of business with Massingham within the weeks after the Brexit vote, defined the historical past of the connection between SCL and AIQ, which started in past due 2013.
After development a “buyer courting control (CRM) instrument” for SCL in Trinidad and Tobago, AIQ created “a wholly new CRM instrument” for the 2014 U.S. midterm elections. “SCL referred to as the instrument Ripon,” Silvester wrote. AIQ used to be then required to switch all instrument rights to SCL sooner than running “with SCL on equivalent instrument construction, web advertising, and web page construction” in beef up of Cambridge Analytica’s paintings for the Ted Cruz 2016 marketing campaign.
A referral from “an acquaintance who used to be running with Vote Leave” resulted in AIQ being employed by way of Vote Leave in April 2016, the day sooner than the marketing campaign used to be designated because the reliable Leave group.
This previous May, after wondering the legality of AggregateIQ founder Zach Massingham’s paintings on British soil whilst creating VICS, parliamentary committee chair Damian Collins requested Silvester about AIQ’s fresh paintings for WPAi.
Silvester defined, “They promote their instrument that we create for them to whomever they prefer, and we simply merely beef up that paintings.”
In March, WPAi CEO Chris Wilson informed Gizmodo that he had virtually no wisdom of the talk surrounding AIQ, in spite of their paintings for the Cruz 2016 marketing campaign. “I’d by no means paintings with a company that I felt had performed one thing unlawful and even unethical,” he stated. The company’s paintings for WPA used to be the results of a aggressive bidding procedure, he stated, and AIQ “presented us the most productive functions for the most productive worth.”
Leaving the nest
In February 2017, a tale at the Politico Pro web page introduced Archie, WPA Intelligence’s new piece of instrument for 2018 campaigns. The instrument is going by way of a nickname utilized by Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s political staff, regarding Archimedes, the Greek mathematician who stated, “Give me a lever and I will be able to transfer the arena.”
“The program permits campaigns to paintings throughout all codecs and distributors to assemble knowledge in one position,” the thing stated, and marketing campaign staffers “will have the ability to use the app to generate fashions, goal audiences, lower lists, and bring knowledge visualization gear to make strategic selections.”
From that description, Archie sounded very just like AIQ’s Ripon and VICS all-in-one marketing campaign answers. AIQ’s smartphone app for WPAi shopper Greg Abbott first seemed on Google Play and Apple’s iOS Store three months later, in May 2017.
Archie’s predictive modeling of Texan electorate “yielded roughly 4.5 million person goals for turnout efforts,” in line with WPAi. That helped the Abbott marketing campaign win the 2018 Reed award for Best Use of Data Analytics/Machine Learning in Field Program. In attendance on the March rite had been representatives from Cambridge Analytica, which used to be nominated for Best Use of Online Targeting for Judicial Campaign.
Three weeks after the Reed awards, Christopher Wylie’s whistleblower account within the Observer had been splashed the world over’s entrance pages. By the next month, SCL and Analytica had been claiming chapter, and AIQ’s cofounders had been showing at Canadian Parliament and coping with its suspension from Facebook as builders.
Watch those 30 seconds. percent.twitter.com/oyOYaADcuZ
— Chris Vickery (@VickerySec) June 12, 2018
In June, a week sooner than AIQ’s WPA apps in any case got rid of Facebook Login, Silvester seemed sooner than Canadian Parliament for a 2d time, the place he used to be admonished by way of Vice Chair Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who remarked, “Frankly, the tips you will have equipped is insufficient.” After being threatened with a contempt fee for excusing himself from sworn testimony with a one-line physician’s notice, Massingham later spoke with the committee by means of audio-only hyperlink from his legal professional’s place of business.
In July, AggregateIQ used to be served with the U.Ok.’s first-ever enforcement understand underneath the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, referred to as GDPR. The U.Ok.’s Information Commissioner’s Office subjected AIQ to hundreds of thousands in fines if it didn’t “stop processing any non-public knowledge of U.Ok. or EU electorate received from U.Ok. political organizations or differently for the needs of knowledge analytics, political campaigning, or every other promoting functions.”
After AIQ appealed the order, it used to be simply mandated to “erase any non-public knowledge of people within the U.Ok.,” despite the fact that it used to be discovered to have “processed non-public knowledge in a manner that the information topics weren’t conscious about, for functions which they wouldn’t have anticipated, and with out a lawful foundation for that processing.”
As Ted Cruz wraps up his marketing campaign, he continues to outsource a part of his voter knowledge harvesting to a overseas company that has been blacklisted by way of Facebook and British and European regulators. The overall knowledge collected via apps like Cruz Crew and tasks like Ripon and Archimedes stays unknown, however they lift issues that Cruz said when he introduced his presidential marketing campaign at Liberty University in March 2015. “Instead of a govt that seizes your emails and your cellphones,” he stated, “believe a federal govt that safe the privateness rights of each American.”
Jesse Witt (@witjest) is an impartial researcher, creator, and filmmaker.
With further reporting by way of Alex Pasternack.