Lawmakers grill academic at heart of Facebook scandal

London: The academic at the center of the Facebook data-misuse scandal, who apologized for his actions in an interview aired by “60 Minutes” on Sunday, answered more questions on Tuesday — this time from British lawmakers. Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan told “60 Minutes” he was “sincerely sorry” about the way he and “tens of thousands” of other app developers took advantage of what he said was Facebook’s lax data policy enforcement, but he doesn’t think he really did anything wrong.
On Tuesday, he told members of the British Parliament that Cambridge Analytica’s suspended CEO, Alexander Nix, had blatantly lied to them during his testimony on the relationship between that company and his own.
Facebook has been mired in scandal since revelations that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica misused personal information from as many as 87 million Facebook accounts. But as Kogan suggested to “60 Minutes,” the issue is likely far more widespread than that.
A former Cambridge Analytica employee said last week — before the same British Parliamentary committee grilling Kogan on Tuesday — that there were likely many more apps, and likely “many” more Facebook users affected by the data misuse than currently acknowledged by Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica got the data from a Facebook personality-quiz app Kogan created. That app collected data on both users and their Facebook friends.
Kogan began testifying Tuesday morning before the U.K. Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is investigating data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica’s role in elections globally as well as the U.K.’s Brexit vote in 2016.
Relationship with Facebook
Lawmakers began by asking him about how is relationship with Facebook began. He described a collaboration, before he dev eloped the “This is your digital life” app, under which the social media platform provided him with data sets on its users to help research their online experience.
He described the relationship, at that stage, as seeming innocent enough, saying it was “really an academic collaboration… they (Facebook) had a strong interest in the research.”
Asked whether his interest in developing his app, which gathered the data on so many Facebook users was born out of the potential financial value of that data, or his research into peoples’ online behavior, Kogan replied without hesitation that research was his primary impetus.
Culpability?
Kogan cast doubt on Facebook’s denials of knowledge that data on its users was being used to try and influence politics, as he did in his “60 Minutes” interview. He said the company’s denials, and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s targeting of himself in particular, were part of a disingenuous PR campaign born out of the company’s “crisis mode” in dealing with the fallout of the privacy scandal.
He said he believed Facebook had realized it was “convenient to point the finger at a single entity” — himself — when in fact the social media giant knew its data was being misused, on a vast scale.
Cambridge Analytica link
Damian Collins, the committee chairman, pointedly asked Kogan about previous testimony given to the committee by Alexander Nix, the now-suspended boss of Cambridge Analytica. Kogan said Nix had blatantly lied about where the data his company used in its role as a U.S. political campaign tool had come from.