Cambridge University criticises Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook data claims

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Cambridge University has criticised Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before US Congress after the Facebook founder suggested “something bad” may have taken place in the way researchers used private data collected on his platform.

A spokesman said the university has been publishing research based on Facebook data for years, sometimes in collaboration with Facebook employees, and stressed the social media giant has yet to provide evidence for its claims.

The university said in a statement: “We would be surprised if Mr Zuckerberg was only now aware of research at the University of Cambridge looking at what an individual’s Facebook data says about them.

“Our researchers have been publishing such research since 2013 in major peer-reviewed scientific journals, and these studies have been reported widely in international media.

“These have included one study in 2015 led by Dr Aleksandr Spectre (Kogan) and co-authored by two Facebook employees.

“We wrote to Facebook on 21 March to ask it to provide evidence to support its allegations about Dr Kogan. We have yet to receive a response.”

Dr Kogan, who also uses his married named Spectre, is accused of giving the private information of tens of millions of Facebook users to controversial election consultants Cambridge Analytica (CA) after collecting it via a Facebook app in 2013.

A market research manager at Facebook, Pete Fleming, and Dr Kogan were among the co-authors of a 2015 study which used Facebook data on almost 60 billion friendships to understand issues around social class and relationships.

It used the same methodology to collect its data as Dr Kogan is alleged to have used to collect Facebook data which may have been shared with CA.

Mr Fleming is now head of research at the Facebook-owned photosharing app Instagram.

Mr Zuckerberg said he was “looking into” the prospect of taking legal action against Dr Kogan, Cambridge University and CA during questioning by the US Congress committee on energy and commerce in Washington on Wednesday.

He said: “What we’ve found now is there’s a whole programme associated with Cambridge University where a number of researchers, not just Aleksandr Kogan … [made] similar apps so we do need to understand whether there was something bad going on at Cambridge University overall that will require a stronger action from us.”

Cambridge University has maintained that all of Dr Kogan’s work with CA, which is not associated with the university, was carried out through his own business Global Science Research.

Facebook began notifying 87 million users, including more than a million Britons, that their data may have been given to CA.

The company is accused of using such data to target political advertising during the 2016 US election and Brexit referendum.

CA, which was co-founded by former White House adviser Steve Bannon and funded by billionaire Robert Mercer, denies any involvement in the Brexit vote and that it used Facebook data during the 2016 election.

Dr Kogan, two former CA employees and Facebook’s chief technology officer are all due to give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into fake news in the coming weeks.

Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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