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Facebook Suspends Canadian Firm Amid Data Mining Scandal

MENLO PARK (CBS) -- Canadian analytics firm AggregateIQ, which worked for the victorious Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit vote, has been suspended from Facebook, the company said Friday. AggregateIQ has been linked to the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that has been accused of improperly accessing data from 87 million Facebook users.

Facebook said in a statement to CBS News that in light of reports that AggregateIQ may have received improperly received data, the firm has been suspended pending an investigation.

"Our internal review continues, and we will co-operate fully with any investigations by regulatory authorities," the statement read.

AggregateIQ worked with four different campaigns associated with the campaign to leave the European Union in the June 2016 Brexit referendum: Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the DUP, according to the British newspaper the Guardian. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Guardian that he helped found AggregateIQ while he worked at Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

Britain's Electoral Commission said in December that VoteLeave paid 40 percent of its budget to AggregateIQ. British Columbia's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner said last year it is investigating AggregateIQ's connection to Vote Leave and announced a joint investigation with Canada's federal privacy commissioner into both AggregateIQ and Facebook, the National Observer reported.

The firm also worked for President Trump's newly appointed national security adviser John Bolton, and the GOP Sens. Thom Tillis and Ted Cruz, according to the Guardian. Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign had also worked with Cambridge Analytica, which is at least partially funded by GOP donor Robert Mercer. Cambridge Analytica also did work for the Trump 2016 campaign, although the campaign's digital guru, Brad Parscale, has said they did not use data from Cambridge Analytica. He told "60 Minutes" in Oct. 2017 that "psychographic" profiling that Cambridge Analytica uses "doesn't work."

Facebook announced late on March 16 that it was suspending all of SCL, which included Cambridge Analytica, as well as the accounts of Aleksandr Kogan, a psychologist who had created an app that mined data from user profiles, and Wylie. Hours later, interviews with Wylie were published in the Guardian and The New York Times alleging that Cambridge Analytica had exploited a loophole within Facebook that allowed it access the data of 50 million users despite that only 270,000 had signed up for the app. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since said the number of user profiles accessed is closer to 87 million.

In the weeks since the news broke, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have pledged the company will do a better job to protect users' data. But Sanderg admitted Friday in an interview with NBC's "Today" that users' data is the lifeblood of Facebook. If they want to opt out of sharing all their data, they will have to pay for it.

Meanwhile, Facebook's shares have sunk 14 percent since The New York Times and the Guardian's Observer published their interviews with Wylie, wiping out tens of billions of dollars in market value.

Zuckerberg will answer questions from Congress next week. In the meantime, Facebook said it's auditing records in an effort to find any other companies that may have taken advantage of its service, CNET reports.

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