Academic who collected 50 million Facebook profiles: ‘We thought we were doing something normal’

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The academic at the heart of the Facebook data scandal said that the American technological giant is using him as a scapegoat. Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, compiled a data set of some 50 million Facebook users four years ago using a personality test application. Subsequently, Kogan passed this information to the Cambridge Analytica voter analysis firm, which claimed (but now denies) that he used the data to create political notices for President Trump's 2016 election.
Kogan's comments, made to the BBC Radio 4 Today program, describe an environment of permissive data collection and privacy policies. "We thought we were acting perfectly properly, we thought we were doing something that was really normal," Kogan said. "My point of view is that they basically use me as a scapegoat for both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica."
Kogan said that Cambridge Analytica assured him that "thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of applications were doing exactly the same" and that "this was a fairly normal use of Facebook data."
Reports blame Facebook for not controlling the police that accessed the users' data
Facebook says that Kogan violated the company's data policies by using the information it collected for commercial purposes. Between 2007 and 2014, the company gave developers access to their social graph: the map of friends' networks, interests and "likes" of users. But multiple reports say that the social network did very little to control this type of activity, only asking third parties to sign minimum agreements, and only investigating the misuses after they were reported to the company.
A former Facebook employee told The Wall Street Journal that "the main enforcement mechanism was calling [developers] and yelling at them." An anonymous application creator who collected user information during this period told Business Insider that he remembers thinking, "Fuck, people will literally give everything away for nothing."
Industry insiders say that the collection and misuse of this data was and is common. But the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which broke this weekend thanks to the testimony of a former employee, Chris Wylie, has highlighted these practices. This is due, at least in part, to Cambridge Analytica's participation in the 2016 US elections, where it served as a data operations team for the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of parallel investigations, with an undercover reporter filming CEO Alexander Nix who boasts of using bribes and sex workers to catch politicians. Nix was suspended from the company earlier this week.

Whether or not the Facebook data helped to change the election for Trump is not clear, although the experts are skeptical. "I think Cambridge Analytica is a better marketing company than a guidance company," an academic who studies political microtargeting at The Verge said this week.
Speaking to Radio 4, Kogan echoed these sentiments, saying that Cambridge Analytica had tried to sell "magic", but that their efforts "could only have hurt [Trump’s] the campaign."
"The accuracy of this data has been extremely exaggerated," said Kogan. "In practice, my best guess is that we were six times more likely to make a mistake with a person, since we had to do things right with a person." Personally, I do not think micro-targeting is an effective way to use such sets. of data ".
But even if microtargeting is not effective, it is clear that these reports have taken Facebook's reputation to a new low. The #deletefacebook campaign is in full swing, and even high profile figures like Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, which Facebook bought in 2014, have joined. It is reported that the social network is being investigated by the FTC, from New York and Massachusetts. Attorney Generals, Canada's privacy regulator, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been summoned by UK parliamentarians to answer questions before parliament. Zuckerberg has been notably absent this week, and has yet to make a public statement about the scandal. He is expected to do it at a staff meeting this Friday.


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