A Cambridge University academic who developed a personality app which harvested data from 50 million Facebook users says he has been made a “scapegoat” for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan, who worked with Cambridge Analytica (CA) in 2014, said he wanted the data so he could “model human behaviour through social media”.
Kogan’s app gathered the details of people who were paid to take a personality test, while also collecting data from their Facebook friends.
CA whistleblower Christopher Wylie claimed that this information was then used by Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign to target voters.
The company’s then chief executive Alexander Nix was caught on camera by undercover Channel 4 reporters boasting about the firm’s pivotal role in securing Trump’s election victory, claiming the firm ran “all” the elements of the billionaire’s campaign.
However, CA has denied claims of any wrongdoing.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday, Kogan said he wasn’t aware how CA used the data his app collected, claiming he had been unfairly blamed for the scandal.
“The events of the past week have been a total shell shock, and my view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when... we thought we were doing something that was really normal,” he said.
“We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service.”
Kogan, who is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University, refuted CA’s allegations that he had approached the company, saying he was “surprised” by their comments.
“They approached me,” he said. “In terms of the usage of Facebook data, they wrote the terms of service for the app, they provided the legal advice that this was all appropriate.”
He told Today programme presenter Mishal Husain he was informed that “tens of thousands of apps” were harvesting Facebook data for commercial purposes that it was a “pretty normal use case”.
“One of the great mistakes I did make here is that I didn’t ask enough questions,” Kogan added.
“That’s certainly something I regret now.”
Facebook claims that Kogan broke its rules after telling the company he would not use the data for commercial uses.
Kogan’s comments come the day after CA suspended its chief executive Alexander Nix “pending a full, independent investigation”, with the company insisting his comments do not reflect the firm’s “values or operations”.
Alongside claims about Trump’s campaign, Nix and other senior executives were caught on camera saying they could bribe politicians, entrap them with sex workers, or use ex-spies to dig dirt on political opponents and then post any damaging material online.
On Monday, Nix told BBC’s Newsnight the firm had been the victim of a “co-ordinated attack by the media” because of its involvement in Trump’s presidential election campaign.
He said he had spoken with “a certain amount of hyperbole” in his conversation with the undercover reporter.
Nix added: “I have some regrets about the way that I have represented what the company does.
“I certainly feel that the air of mystery and negativity that surrounds the work of Cambridge is misfounded and, as the CEO, I take responsibility for that.”