Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who developed the “thisisyourdigitallife” personality app at the center of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, has denied claims that he’s a Russian spy.
Kogan’s app asked those who took the quiz for permission to harvest their data but made no such request to the 50 million Facebook friends who didn’t know about the application or give consent, yet still had their personal info sucked up and given over to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections. It was then used to back Brexit and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Last month, The Guardian reported Kogan, who was born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union, was briefly an associate professor at St Petersburg University, where he took grants from the Russian government to fund research into social media.
The Russia links have led some to assume that Kogan is a spy for the country. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie also talked about a Russia connection in interviews, something Kogan called “Russophobic” and “deeply irresponsible.”
“I think they strongly insinuated that I’m a Russian spy based on no evidence whatsoever,” he told Buzzfeed. “There have been conspiracy theorists that are convinced that I am the missing link between Russia and Trump.”
Kogan also pointed out that his psychology work at St Petersburg had nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica, and that he and his family emigrated to the US from Moscow, where his father was stationed in the Russian army, when he was seven because of anti-Semitic death threats.
Kogan also used the interview to reveal that he has closer ties with Facebook than reports suggested. He worked as a paid consultant to the site for a week in November 2015, and has worked on at least 10 papers with Pete Fleming, who is now head of research at Facebook-owned Instagram.
He failed to disclose that what he was really after was access to their friends and that he was doing the survey for Cambridge Analytica which used the material to influence people on how to vote. (2/2) #60Minutes pic.twitter.com/lkVaiENxTd— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 22, 2018
Kogan told CBS’s 60 Minutes that he was “sincerely sorry” for assuming people knew their data was being harvested but didn’t care about the mining.
“Back then, we thought it was fine. Right now, my opinion has really been changed,” he said.” “If I had any inkling that I was going to cause people to be upset, I would’ve never done it.”