The data scientist behind the Cambridge Analytica scandal did paid consultancy work for Facebook and has close ties to staff

Cambridge Analytica Aleksandr Kogan

CNN

Aleksandr Kogan.

  • Data scientist Aleksandr Kogan said he once had close ties to Facebook, despite being blamed by the company for his role in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
  • Kogan said he acted as a paid consultant in 2015 and even gave talks about behavioural psychology to Facebook employees.
  • Facebook blamed Kogan and his company, Global Science Research, for creating an app which harvested millions of users' profiles used by Cambridge Analytica.
  • Facebook said it was unaware of Kogan's connection to Cambridge Analytica.


Facebook hasn't been totally upfront about its close ties with a major player in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Aleksandr Kogan is the data scientist who created a quiz app which harvested 87 million Facebook user profiles, then passed that information to Cambridge Analytica, in breach of Facebook's terms of service.

Facebook has since sought to paint Kogan as the main villain in the scandal, but the data scientist told BuzzFeed he had a deep relationship with the company.

In the interview, he admitted to acting as a paid consultant to Facebook for a week in November 2015, even giving talks to employees about behavioural psychology. He worked on at least 10 papers, he said, with Pete Fleming, now head of research at Facebook-owned Instagram.

As first noted by the Washington Post, Kogan co-authored a research paper on friendships and wealth using data that was provided to him by Facebook.

And Joseph Chancellor, Kogan's cofounder at Global Science Research, the company which created the quiz app, has worked for Facebook since 2015. Kogan said Chancellor told Facebook about Global Science Research and its work while interviewing for a position the social network.

Kogan is now considering suing Facebook, which took out full-page newspaper ads in March blaming him for the data leaks.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Facebook acknowledged its prior relationship with Kogan but said it hadn't been aware of Global Science Research's activities. The company said: "[At] no point during these two years was Facebook aware of Kogan's activities with Cambridge Analytica."

Who is Aleksandr Kogan?

Kogan is currently listed as a research associate at the University of Cambridge under his married name, Aleksandr Spectre. He completed his undergraduate degree at Berkeley and a PhD in Hong Kong.

His position at Cambridge ends this summer, and he told BuzzFeed that he is unlikely to win another academic post. He also runs a big data startup called Cliometrics, which is also unlikely to survive the scandal.

His research has focused on, according to his bio, "the biology and psychology of human kindness and well-being."

Kogan was born in Moldova and moved to the US as a child. He told BuzzFeed that the media had insinuated he was a Russian spy, pointing at his roots and a short stint in St. Petersburg as a researcher. "I think they strongly insinuated that I'm a Russian spy based on no evidence whatsoever," he said.

Kogan also disputed that Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook data to sway millions of voters during the US presidential election in 2016. He said Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie had overexaggerated the firm's capabilities.

"Chris is as much a data scientist as I am a fashion icon," Kogan said. "And I mostly wear sweatpants."

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