Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, the Russian-American psychology researcher painted as an unethical rogue scientist by Facebook, political-research firm Cambridge Analytica and whistleblower Christopher Wylie alike, got his day in front of the U.K. Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday (Tuesday, April 24).
Credit: UK ParliamentFor a man portrayed as a villain, Kogan seemed affable, friendly and open as he discussed the entire Cambridge Analytica brouhaha and his relationship with Facebook.
Kogan said that Facebook "gave me the data set without any agreement signed" initially, and only later demanded a signed agreement. He portrayed Wylie as an untrustworthy double-dealer who burned bridges and made up facts.
Kogan said that SCL/Cambridge Analytica never got its hands on the data collected by the "ThisIsYourDigitalLife" Facebook survey, which only "a few hundred individuals" completed. Rather, he said in written testimony provided before his appearance, the data provided to SCL was collected by earlier survey apps.
He said that Facebook was trying to dig itself out of a public-relations hole by portraying him as the villain.
"I think they realize that their platform has been mined left and right by thousands of others," Kogan said. "I was just the unlucky person that ended up somehow linked to the Trump campaign."
Kogan's testimony touched upon the matter of Joseph Chancellor, a fellow American psychology researcher at Cambridge University who co-founded GSR, the commercial entity that provided Cambridge Analytica with the Facebook data. Chancellor has been working at Facebook since the fall of 2015, a fact that the company has not publicized, although it's no secret.
Chancellor and Kogan "divided and conquered the tasks," Kogan said. "I ran the app, because I wrote the code for the app to collect the data, and he was involved with doing all the modeling."
Yet Kogan didn't seem bitter toward Facebook.
"In fairness to Facebook, my perception is they did a pretty thorough job of investigating the issue," he said. "They talked to all the parties involved, they demanded that the data be deleted. The difficulty here is compliance."
"I've seen Facebook has been challenged with 'Why didn't you audit anyone?'" he added. "The problem with an audit is the only thing you're gonna catch are people who are trying to do the right thing, but missed a few files. What an audit cannot do is catch people who are trying to be bad actors, because you can always put the data on a hard drive and stick it under your mattress."
"Once the data is off the system," Kogan said, "you really are on the honor system in terms of ever trying to put that genie back in the bottle."