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Academic at centre of Facebook data scandal to appear before MPs

Dr Aleksander Kogan built an app which harvested personal information from millions of Facebook users

The Cambridge academic embroiled in the Facebook data-misuse scandal has said he is “really sorry” that people feel their data was used in a way they did not expect.

Aleksander Kogan, who works in Cambridge University’s renowned psychology department, made the comments in a TV interview ahead of his appearance before MPs investigating fake news.

Mr Kogan built an app in 2014 which harvested the personal information of millions of Facebook users.

He is accused of passing the data on to controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica, in breach of Facebook’s terms of service, who used the data to help the Trump campaign in the 2016 US election, according to a whistleblower.

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Information Commissioner’s Office enforcement staff at the premises of Cambridge Analytica (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes he said that he was not troubled about whether he broke the platform’s terms of service, but that he was concerned with how people had reacted to it.

He said: “If I did something wrong or not, that has everything to do with the American people and the global population, how they respond to it.

“If Facebook tells me, ‘You are fine’, but everybody else tells me I was wrong, I was wrong.

“So, I’m not here to answer to Facebook. I’m here to answer to the public.

“And I think to the public, it doesn’t matter what the Facebook terms of service said.

“They still feel that I violated them and they’re angry that their data was taken and used in ways they could not have imagined or expected. And that’s what’s troublesome to me. And that’s what I’m really sorry for.”

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Whistleblower Christopher Wylie (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Facebook suspended both Cambridge Analytica and Dr Kogan after the accusations came to light in March, and Dr Kogan has since claimed he is being used as a “scapegoat” by both CA and Facebook.

A former CA employee who worked with Dr Kogan at the time, Christopher Wylie, has accused the company of misusing the personal data by helping politicians target voters on social media with advertising intended to manipulate their hopes and fears.

Cambridge Analytica has denied using data from Dr Kogan and refuted claims it used psychological profiling to target advertisements, despite appearing to boast about the practice in secret filming by Channel 4 News.

Dr Kogan is accused of collecting data from more than 87 million Facebook users, including over one million Britons, under the guise of a psychological survey before handing it to CA through his private company Global Science Research.

Mr Wylie and another former CA employee, Brittany Kaiser, have told MPs that the company helped Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and the Brexit campaign group Leave.EU target voters with advertising on social media.

Leave.EU has denied working with Cambridge Analytica, a company founded by former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and branded the testimony of Ms Kaiser a “litany of lies”.

Dr Kogan will give evidence to MPs from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday morning.

The committee will hear evidence from Facebook’s chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, on Thursday morning.

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