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Facebook attacks Cambridge Academic for ‘illegal’ use of 50 million users’ data

Facebook has banned Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm used by the Trump campaign

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Cambridge Psychology lecturer Dr Aleksandr Kogan has been accused of selling data to third party companies, something that is illegal under British law, and may have mined data that aided Donald Trump's successful 2016 presidential run. A whistle-blower at the data mining company Cambridge Analytica has said that he worked with Kogan to "harvest millions of people's profiles" which were mined by Kogan's own company, Global Science Research.

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Professor Kogan, currently working in the university's psychology department

The professor created a so-called 'personality app' called 'thisisyourdigitallife' that once downloaded allowed him to access all the information on your Facebook profile including your city, likes and online activity. This app was downloaded by over 270,000 people and worked by asking users to complete a 'personality prediction test' that they were told would then be used by psychologists. Whilst all of this is legal, when the professor did not delete any of the gathered data and then sold the data to the company Cambridge Analytica it violated Facebook's data sharing guidelines as well as British law. Kogan's app would ask people whether they would like to be paid to take a personality test, on finishing the test they would then give the app access to their Facebook profile and all the Facebook profiles of their friends, none of whom knew that this had happened.

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Did Kogan's data also have influence in the Brexit referendum?

Within weeks Kogan had collected millions of Facebook profiles and Cambridge Analytica paid Kogan's own company, Global Science Research, for all the harvested data. Facebook allowed this due to Kogan maintaining that his data collection was for entirely academic purposes even though he later made a profit from it. There are additional allegations that Kogan has received grants from the Russian government to carry out this research and to use Facebook in his research and investigations.

It was revealed by The Observer that in 2014, 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested by Kogan.

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Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's ex-chief strategist, worked as vice president of the company Cambridge Analytica

Kogan refused to comment on the accusations despite being contacted multiple times and is accused of giving the data to companies who then used it to influence voters in the US election. This is due to how Steve Bannon worked within a senior position at Cambridge Analytica and therefore could have easily used the information from Kogan to aid Trump's bid.

Additionally, Robert Mercer, one of Trump's key supporters, gave Cambridge Analytica $15 million of funding.

The company Cambridge Analytica may face legal consequences over the data abuse, even though they state that none of the data supplied by Kogan was used in their 2016 election analysis and maintain that they did delete all data and not store it for later use.

Finally, both Kogan and his company have been banned from Facebook due to their contravening of the company's policy and their alleged illegal activities.