The academic behind the personality quiz at the heart of the Facebook data scandal has accused the former head of Cambridge Analytica of lying to the parliamentary inquiry into fake news.
Appearing before the inquiry on Tuesday, Dr Aleksander Kogan described testimony by Alexander Nix about work the pair conducted together as a “total fabrication”.
Damian Collins, chair of the inquiry and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, asked Kogan to verify answers from Nix about data collected by his company, Global Science Research (GSR), and given to Cambridge Analytica.
Collins said: “I said to [Nix] ‘Does any of your data come from Global Science Research?’ And he said ‘no’.”
“That’s a fabrication,” replied Kogan.
Collins continued: “I said ‘They have not supplied you with data or information?’ And he said, ‘no’.”
“Total fabrication,” Kogan replied.
Cambridge Analytica will later address Kogan’s remarks at a briefing.
Kogan’s quiz harvested information from 87 million Facebook users, data that he passed on to Cambridge Analytica, the firm hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Facebook has claimed that Kogan acted unethically and breached its terms of services by claiming he was using the data for academic research and then selling it.
Kogan rejected that position today, saying he did not think he was doing anything wrong.
“For you to break a policy it has to exist,” he said, adding “I’d agree my actions were inconsistent with the language of this document, but that’s slightly different.”
Kogan also shrugged off Facebook’s criticisms of him, saying it was in “PR crisis mode” and looking for someone to blame.
″I don’t believe they think these things because they realise that their platform has been mined left and right by thousands of others and I was just the unlucky person that ended up some how linked to the Trump campaign and here we are,” he said.
“I think they realise all of this. But PR is PR and they are trying to manage the crisis and it is convenient to point the finger at a single entity and paint the picture that this is a rogue agent.”
Kogan dismissed claims the harvested information could have been used to influence voters, saying that personality scores he provided were “highly inaccurate” and “made little sense” for political advertising.
“The idea that this data is accurate, I would say, is scientifically ridiculous. The idea that even if you had a lot more data you could make it super accurate is also pretty silly,” he said.
Kogan insisted that Facebook’s tools were capable of helping campaign groups send targeted advertising without the need for more specific information about people’s personalities.
In written evidence supplied to the committee before his appearance he wrote: “The Facebook ads platform provides tools and capability to run targeted ads with little need for our work – in fact, the platform’s tools provide companies a far more effective pathway to target people based on their personalities than using scores from users from our work.”
In secret filming by Channel 4 News released in March, CA executives boasted about profiling voters to help politicians target them with social media adverts.
Former CA employees Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser have told the inquiry the company helped Trump and Ted Cruz’s 2016 election campaigns, as well as the Brexit campaign group Leave.EU.
Leave.EU denies the claims but pro-Brexit groups Vote Leave and BeLeave, as well as the DUP and Veterans for Britain, spent large portions of their campaign budgets with Aggregate IQ, a company linked to Cambridge Analytica which carries out similar work.
Wylie told the inquiry Aggregate IQ “absolutely” had access to the data collected by Kogan, and the company “blasted” a small number of voters with political adverts on social media during the EU referendum.
In a statement after Kogan’s appearance before the committee, pro-Remain campaign group Best For Britain, labelled his evidence “dodgy as hell”.
Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and Best For Britain supporter, said: “This all looks dodgy as hell. The man at the centre of the Facebook breach row is now saying that they gave him user information first – without any requirement for him to destroy it afterwards.
“These large corporations need better oversight. The evidence for action is clear. Companies like Facebook feel more powerful to the man in the street than the government and this needs to change.
“But more than that, these revelations are yet more evidence of foul play during the referendum. We need a People’s Vote on the final deal.”
On Tuesday afternoon Cambridge Analytica held a press conference fronted by its spokesperson Clarence Mitchell, which detractors labelled “absolutely farcical”.
Cambridge Atalytica said Kogan’s data was “virtually useless” for its intended campaigning usage and denied influencing the EU Referendum.
Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “Rather than Alexander Nix facing MPs’ questions, Cambridge Analytica held a short press conference fronted by Clarence Mitchell who didn’t seem to know anything and who offered almost no clarification or assurances about CA’s suggested interfering in elections around the world.”