UC Berkeley alumnus Aleksandr Kogan center of major Facebook data misuse scandal


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Aleksandr Kogan, who allegedly leaked the private information of 50 million Facebook users across the country to the firm Cambridge Analytica, is a UC Berkeley graduate and former Daily Californian writer.

Cambridge Analytica is a company that collects data in order to correlate personality type to predicted voter outcome — services that Steve Bannon used in President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. According to the New York Times, Bannon was fascinated by the idea that personalities could be used to change American politics.

The problem was that the company did not have enough information to work with. To gather data about voters, Cambridge Analytica decided to use information from Facebook users.

Though the Psychometrics Centre of the University of Cambridge refused to work with Cambridge Analytica, Kogan, a researcher at University of Cambridge, was willing to work with the firm. He told Facebook he needed the information for academic purposes.

Kogan graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 with a degree in psychology. He was part of the Haas Scholars Social Science Fellowship program from 2007 to 2008, for which he carried out research entitled “The Secrets of the Heart: Love Directionality and Construct Integration.”

The project included objectives such as studying the “personality, cultural, and situational factors which contribute to the vast differences individuals have in their definitions of love,” according to the Haas Scholars website.

To collect data on Facebook users for Cambridge Analytica, Kogan used his app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered users personality predictions if they allowed the app access to their personal information, according to Bloomberg. The data was then used to access information about the users’ friends, as well.

Though Facebook tightened its privacy settings in 2014, the company used to allow third parties to access data. The company provided the app with “a list of millions of people in the U.S., with their names, locations, genders, ages and predicted test scores,” according to Bloomberg. Kogan’s app used this information to “build a model predicting personalities based on digital behavior.”

Though Kogan used the information for his own research, he also sent any results he received to Cambridge Analytica, which was then used for the campaign. Some of the observed personality traits collected from the Facebook profiles included “extraversion,” “neuroticism” and even “belief in star signs.”

Only a “tiny fraction” of the users had agreed to have their information disclosed in this way, according to the New York Times.

Currently, Kogan is a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge. His lab investigates “the prosociality and well-being from biological, psychological, and cross-cultural perspectives.”

“In particular, we are highly interested in cooperation, trust, altruism, positive emotions, close relationships, happiness, physical and mental health, and cross cultural differences. We employ methodology combining genetics, physiology, pharmacology, surveys, event sampling, and large scale datasets,” according to the Cambridge Neuroscience website.

Kogan said in an email that his time at Berkeley is what sparked his interest in studying psychology.

“the berkeley experience was foundational since its where i fell in love with psychology research and started building towards a career as an academic,” Kogan said in an email.

Contact Isabella Sabri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @isabella_sabri.