Data scientist amid Facebook scandal didn’t know of voter targeting

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The man who helped gather Facebook users’ information for Cambridge Analytica claims that he didn’t think it’d be used to target voters.

Data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, who also goes by the surname of Spectre, told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday that he was “heavily siloed” from knowing about the UK data firm’s clients and funders, who are linked to the 2016 Trump election campaign.

“I found out about Donald Trump just like everybody else, through the news,” Kogan told the program. 

A key person in Facebook’s rapidly unfurling controversy, Kogan created an personality quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that harvested the data of unsuspecting Facebook users. 

Cambridge Analytica were able to use the profile information of 50 million users, as prior to 2015, third-party apps on Facebook also had access to data from a user’s friend list.

Kogan explained on the show he was initially approached by Cambridge Analytica for consulting work, when he was then tasked with a project to collect new data. Christopher Wylie, the saga’s whistleblower, helped Kogan set up his company Global Science Research (GSR) to do the work.

While Kogan admitted he knew the project was for “political purposes,” he said didn’t know it would be used to target or find out information about voters. He added the data collected wasn’t useful at an individual level, but could be used to identify trends or behaviours among a defined group.

In its statement suspending Cambridge Analytica from the platform, Facebook said Kogan lied to the company by passing the data he collected from the app to the data firm, violating the platform’s policies. 

Kogan said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were “thousands” of developers and data scientists also misusing its users’ information, and that Facebook “using users’ data for profit is their business model.” 

As U.S. and UK lawmakers hone in on those alleged misdeeds, Kogan told Cambridge University colleagues yesterday that he’s “happy to testify” about the project.

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