Cambridge academic behind Facebook breach tells BBC and CNN he is a 'scapegoat'

Aleksandr Kogan said Facebook is making him a scapegoat to distract from bigger problems it faces.
Aleksandr Kogan said Facebook is making him a scapegoat to distract from bigger problems it faces.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Reuters) - A Cambridge University academic who harvested data on millions of Facebook users said he had been made a scapegoat by the social network and a UK-based political consultancy, and that the accuracy of the dataset had been exaggerated.

Facebook has been rocked this week by a whistleblower who said that Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political firm hired by Donald Trump, had improperly accessed information on 50 million Facebook users to sway public opinion.

Facebook has said the data was harvested by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology academic.

"The events of the past week have been a total shell shock,"he told the BBC.

"My view is that I'm being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when... we thought we were doing something that was really normal."

He said the accuracy of the dataset had been "exaggerated"by Cambridge Analytica, and said the dataset was more likely to hurt Trump's campaign.

Earlier in an interview with CNN, he says Facebook is making him a scapegoat to distract from bigger problems it faces.

"Using users' data for profit is their business model," Kogan said of Facebook in interviews with CNN on Tuesday.

Kogan said that he suspects thousands of other developers and data scientists had used similar methods to gather information on Facebook users.

Kogan, 32, said he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014 - data he then passed to Cambridge Analytica.

When Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared the data with the company it demanded the data be deleted, saying that transferring or selling data was against its company guidelines.

Kogan says he doesn't believe he broke Facebook policy, reported CNN.

He claims that Christopher Wylie, then a Cambridge Analytica staffer, assured him he was doing everything in accordance with Facebook policy. Wylie's revelations about his former company, reported by The New York Times and Britain's Observer, sparked the current crisis facing Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.