Firm at heart of Facebook data row says: 'We're no Bond villain'

Cambridge Analytica has responded furiously to coverage of the Facebook data scandal - claiming reports in the media have portrayed the firm as "some Bond villain".

During a news conference in London, spokesman Clarence Mitchell addressed claims surrounding the company's dealings with former University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan.

Earlier on Tuesday, Dr Kogan was questioned by MPs over allegations that an app he developed allowed him to harvest information on Facebook users.

The quiz app - This Is Your Digital Life - paid users who filled out a personality test, and it was downloaded by 270,000 people. However, it also gave Dr Kogan access their friends - giving him a wealth of information on 87 million users that was later provided to Cambridge Analytica.

Mr Mitchell moved to downplay the scandal on Tuesday, insisting that the data provided had turned out to be "useless" and any suggestion it could have been used to influence voters during the 2016 US presidential election or EU referendum was "insulting to the electorate".

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While Mr Mitchell said it was true that Cambridge Analytica was hired by Donald Trump's campaign team, he claimed they had only worked together for five months.

Several bids made by the company to provide data services during the EU referendum had been rejected, he added.

Mr Mitchell told Sky News the company had "committed no wrongdoing" and "broken no laws" - having "entered a perfectly legitimate, legal contract with the supplier of the data that's at issue".

The figure from Facebook that 87 million users had seen their data passed on to Cambridge Analytica was also disputed, with Mr Mitchell insisting it was closer to 30 million.

He added: "The company has been portrayed as some Bond villain. Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain."

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The 007 reference came hours after Dr Kogan was asked to explain to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee why his University of Cambridge profile had at one point listed his name as Aleksandr Spectre.

Ian Lucas MP asked: "Were you aware it was also the name of the evil organisation in James Bond?"

"No sir, I did not - it was an unfortunate coincidence," replied Dr Kogan, who explained it had come about because he and his wife did not want to take each other's name and thought Spectre sounded "cool".

During the hearing, Dr Kogan insisted he had not broken the terms and conditions of Facebook in the way he used his app to gather data, quipping: "For you to break a policy, it has to exist."

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The app was developed before Facebook changed its policies in 2014, barring apps from accessing information on the friends of those who used them, which Dr Kogan admitted made it more valuable.

But he argued that the idea the data could be used to target people with political adverts was "scientifically ridiculous" because Facebook's advertising platform was already sufficient.

He told MPs: "You don't need this data to do that. Facebook gives your everything available to do that."

Dr Kogan repeatedly questioned Facebook's policies on the sharing of data, especially before 2014.

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After the hearing, he told Sky News that he refuted the claim the Cambridge Analytica scandal represented a data breach.

"Think of it like a warehouse, and a data breach is somebody coming in and stealing things," he said.

"This is a lot more like going on Amazon and ordering some data as delivered. If this is a data breach then Facebook's being breached every day."

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Dr Kogan had told MPs that prior to any involvement with Cambridge Analytica and parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) he had been given access to other Facebook user data for the purpose of "academic research".

"It's well documented that Facebook collaborates with researchers," he said.

Dr Kogan said Facebook was happy to let its employees "give data to academics and let them play with it" because it "made them happy" and "stimulated them".

He added: "They are a very open company. I don't think Facebook have been clear with us about what they do with users' data. Facebook just gave us the data. There was no kind of written agreement. They just gave it to us."

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Dr Kogan later refused to tell MPs why he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Facebook, who have suspended him from the website for a "violation of platform policies".

He also accused former Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix of having lied to the committee during an earlier hearing.

Mr Nix had denied that Global Science Research, Dr Kogan's company, had provided Cambridge Analytica with any data.

Dr Kogan told MPs this was a "total fabrication".

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