Facebook willingly handed over data to the man it now blames for the Cambridge Analytica scandal

ParliamentAleksandr Kogan gives evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.
  • Facebook handed user datasets to scientist Aleksandr Kogan, the man it now blames for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • Kogan told a committee of lawmakers in Britain that the data came with no strings attached and helped inform his earlier research on user behaviour.
  • Kogan said Facebook was “arguably” too open with the data it shared with academics.
  • Business Insider has contacted Facebook for comment.

Facebook handed over data, with no strings attached, to the man it now blames for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

That was the testimony Aleksandr Kogan – the data scientist behind the app that harvested information from 87 million Facebook accounts – gave to a committee of lawmakers in Britain on Tuesday.

In evidence to the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, Kogan described the somewhat cosy relationship he had with Facebook as part of the company’s academic partnerships.

Prior to launching the personality quiz, which ultimately scraped the Facebook data Kogan’s company Global Science Research sold to Cambridge Analytica for $US800,000 (£573,000), Kogan said he worked with Facebook on a number of studies to “understand how people connect and express emotions around the world.”

He said Facebook gave him “several macro-level datasets on friendship connections and emoticon usage” to assist with his work, which took place in 2013.

This was supplemented by an app created by his University of Cambridge lab, named the CPW Lab app, which surveyed up to 15,000 people and collected data from them and their friends. Private message data was also gathered, Kogan added.

He told UK parliamentarians that the information Facebook gave him came with no strings attached. “There was no signed agreement initially. They were just ‘here’s the email, here’s the data set,'” he said, adding that he intended to hold on to the data “indefinitely” for use in other studies.

It was only until “sometime later, maybe even a year later,” that Facebook required Kogan to sign an agreement. And then in December 2015, after Facebook had been alerted to the Cambridge Analytica data breach, the company asked him to “delete everything, including this academic dataset.”

The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee’s Chairman, Damian Collins, said Facebook appeared to be “very open” with its data. “Maybe too open?” he asked Kogan. “Arguably so,” the academic replied.

Kogan’s testimony is further evidence of his collaborative relationship with Facebook. He told BuzzFeed and CBS that he did paid consultancy for the social network, even giving talks to employees about behavioural psychology.

“I visited their campus many times,” Kogan told CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “They had hired my students. I even did a consulting project with Facebook in November of 2015. And what I was teaching them was lessons I learned from working with this data set that we had collected for Cambridge Analytica.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been forthright in pinning the blame on Kogan. During US congressional hearings earlier this month, he said he was “very upset” with Kogan for “violating” their agreement and selling data to Cambridge Analytica. Kogan called this “PR spin” and argued that he behaved more responsibly than other Facebook partners.

Business Insider has contacted Facebook for comment.


You can read Kogan’s full written testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee’ here.

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