I’m being used as a scapegoat, says academic linked to Cambridge Analytica

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The academic who developed an app used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest millions of Facebook users’ data has claimed he has been made a “scapegoat” in the row.

Psychologist Dr Aleksandr Kogan insisted he believed what he was doing was “perfectly legal and within the terms of service” of the social network.

The backlash against Facebook over its handling of personal data has seen a co-founder of WhatsApp appear to back calls for users to delete their profiles and wiped billions of dollars off the social media giant’s market value.

Cambridge University academic Dr Kogan developed a personality survey called This Is Your Digital Life.

Data on around 270,000 users was collected, but the app also gathered some public information from users’ friends – and a whistleblower claimed details of more than 50 million people were harvested.

Cambridge Analytica has denied using the Facebook data in its work on Donald Trump’s successful US presidential campaign.

Facebook banned CA from using its platform on Friday and has also blocked Dr Kogan.

“Honestly we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately, we thought we were doing something that was really normal.”

He added: “We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service.”

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton appeared to add his voice to critics of Facebook following the row.

He tweeted: “It is time. #deletefacebook” as the hashtag trended amid growing outrage over the social media giant’s links to controversial British data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA).

Along with WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, Acton sold the app to Facebook for 19 billion dollars (£11.4 billion) in 2014.

The entrepreneur’s apparent advocacy for people to remove their profiles came as Facebook faced pressure to explain its privacy safeguards from regulators and politicians in the US and UK.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg was called on to explain the company’s data protection procedures to MPs in person.

Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wrote to Mr Zuckerberg on Tuesday requesting that the firm explains the “catastrophic” failure.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that CA had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.

The CA board said that Mr Nix had been suspended “with immediate effect, pending a full, independent investigation”.

Cambridge Analytica (CA) chief executive Alexander Nix (right) was filmed talking about his company’s role in the US presidential election during a meeting filmed at a London hotel (Channel 4 News/PA)
Cambridge Analytica (CA) chief executive Alexander Nix (right) was filmed talking about his company’s role in the US presidential election during a meeting filmed at a London hotel (Channel 4 News/PA)

Every interaction on Facebook generates data, while users volunteer some information in their profile like their hometown and birthday.

Other data could be about interests gleaned from publicly “liking” content, while Facebook also knows where users log on to its site from, the device they use, and which ads they click on.

Users can see what info is shared with any app, and there are options to delete, limit the information each app can access and remove info collected by the app.

Deleting an app may still allow the developer to retain some of a user’s personal information.

WhatsApp has itself been the subject of criticism by Governments and security services in recent years for providing a means for criminals and terrorists to evade surveillance.

In February, Mr Acton launched the Signal Foundation, a nonprofit developing technology that “protects free expression and enables secure global communication”.

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