How about you, Zuck?Image: FELIX/AP/REX/SHUTTERSTOCKBy Kerry Flynn2018-03-19 18:56:01 UTC
Lawmakers are calling for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in the wake of a massive data scandal centered around the political research company, Cambridge Analytica, and how it harvested the private Facebook data of more than 50 million Americans without their consent.
While the social network’s founder is remaining silent in the wake of the controversy, an academic researcher directly involved is reportedly willing to speak.
In an email obtained by CNN, Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who helped Cambridge Analytica harvest user profile information of more than 50 million Americans, wrote to his colleagues at Cambridge University, “I’ve also seriously been asked if the FBI has reached out, if the two congressional committees in the United States have reached out, and if Parliament or any authorities in the UK have reached out.”
“No one has —I suspect they realize I’m actually not a spy. Though if anyone does, I’d be more than happy to testify and speak candidly about the project,” the email continued.
Mashable confirmed the existence of the email with Cambridge University, where Kogan still works.
Kogan played a key role in the ongoing controversy. He’s the data scientist who created the personality test that then harvested the data of unsuspecting Facebook users, granting him access to users’ names, demographic information, and even their friends’ data. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who spoke with the New York Times and The Observer, worked for Kogan.
Cambridge University is not directly affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, and Kogan’s work for Cambridge Analytica was not tied to his job at the University. Though, the connection is currently being debated.
According to Facebook, the description for Kogan’s app originally read, “This app is part of a research program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.” Kogan said in the email that he had updated the app’s terms “granting [him] the right to sell and license the data,” CNN wrote.
Facebook suspended Kogan’s account on Friday, alleging he breached Facebook’s policy by not using the data for the intended academic purposes. Wylie’s Facebook account was also suspended.
Kogan’s argument is that his team “did our absolute best not to have the project have any entanglements with the University,” the email reads. Mashable reached out to Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook about the claims in the email. We will update this article if and when we hear back.
UPDATE: March 19, 2018, 3 p.m. EDT: A Cambridge University spokesperson confirmed the existence of the email and sent the following statement to Mashable:
We are aware of the allegations surrounding Dr Alex Kogan (who also goes by the married name Spectre) from the Department of Psychology, which have been widely reported in the media.
It is not uncommon for Cambridge academics to have business interests, but they must satisfy the University that these are held in a personal capacity and that there are no conflicts of interest.
We are aware that Dr Kogan established his own commercial enterprise, Global Science Research (GSR). We have previously sought and received assurances from Dr Kogan that no University data, resources or facilities were used as the basis for his work with GSR or the company’s subsequent work with any other party.
The University of Cambridge takes matters of research integrity and data protection extremely seriously. We have to date found no evidence to contradict Dr Kogan’s previous assurances. Nevertheless, we are writing to Facebook to request all relevant evidence in their possession.
Researchers are also permitted to undertake academic research outside the university provided it does not interfere with the performance of their duties. We understand that Dr Kogan correctly sought permission from his Head of Department at the time to work with St Petersburg University; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity, separate to his work at the University of Cambridge.
Finally, we would like to make it clear that, despite its name, Cambridge Analytica has no connection or association with the University of Cambridge whatsoever.