Data academic says he’s being made a ‘scapegoat’ by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Dr Aleksandr Kogan says he has been made a “scapegoat” by Facebook (Pictures: CNN/YouTube and Rex)
Dr Aleksandr Kogan says he has been made a “scapegoat” by Facebook (Pictures: CNN/YouTube and Rex)

The academic who developed an app used to harvest data from 50 million Facebook users says he has been made a “scapegoat” by the social network and Cambridge Analytica.

Psychologist Dr Aleksandr Kogan insisted he believed what he was doing was “perfectly legal and within the terms of service” of Facebook.

Cambridge University academic Dr Kogan developed a personality survey called This Is Your Digital Life for British data firm Cambridge Analytica in 2014, but says he had no idea it would be used to benefit Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign.

Data on 270,000 users was collected, but the app also gathered some public information from users’ friends – and a whistleblower claimed details of more than 50 million people were harvested.

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Cambridge Analytica has denied using the Facebook data in its work on Mr Trump’s successful US presidential campaign.

Facebook banned the company from using its platform on Friday and has also blocked Dr Kogan. Facebook said Dr Kogan had violated the site’s policies.

Dr Kogan told the BBC: “My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

“Honestly, we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately, we thought we were doing something that was really normal.

“We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service.”

The backlash against Facebook over its handling of personal data has seen a co-founder of WhatsApp back calls for users to delete their profiles and wiped billions of dollars off the social media giant’s market value.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton added his voice to critics of Facebook following the row.

He tweeted: “It is time. #deletefacebook”, as the hashtag trended amid growing outrage over the social media giant’s links to Cambridge Analytica (CA).

Along with WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, Acton sold the app to Facebook for 19 billion dollars (£11.4 billion) in 2014.

The entrepreneur’s apparent advocacy for people to remove their profiles came as Facebook faced pressure to explain its privacy safeguards from regulators and politicians in the US and UK.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg was called on to explain the company’s data protection procedures to MPs in person.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been called to face MPs (Picture: PA)
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been called to face MPs (Picture: PA)

Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wrote to Mr Zuckerberg on Tuesday requesting that the firm explains the “catastrophic” failure.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that CA had a pivotal role in the election of Mr Trump.

The CA board said that Mr Nix had been suspended “with immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation”.

It said comments by Mr Nix recorded in secret filming by Channel 4 News and “other allegations” did not represent “the values or operations of the firm” and that his suspension “reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation”.

Cambridge Analytica has suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (Picture: PA)
Cambridge Analytica has suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (Picture: PA)

Every interaction on Facebook generates data, while users volunteer some information in their profile like their hometown and birthday.

Other data could be about interests gleaned from publicly “liking” content, while Facebook also knows where users log on to its site from, the device they use, and which ads they click on.

Users can see what info is shared with any app, and there are options to delete, limit the information each app can access and remove info collected by the app.

Deleting an app may still allow the developer to retain some of a user’s personal information.

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