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Academic behind Cambridge Analytica Data Mining Sues Facebook for Defamation



WASHINGTON – The academic that helped Cambridge Analytica vacuum up private information from tens of millions of Facebook profiles, sued the social media giant on Friday, claiming the company defamed him when he claimed he had lied about how the data should be used.

Since the full extent of Cambridge Analytics data mining was revealed last year, Facebook has repeatedly attempted to shift guilt for breaches of privacy by academician Aleksandr Kogan. Facebook directors – including CEO Mark Zuckerberg – have said that Kogan told Facebook that the data was academic when it was collected for use in political campaigns.

Herr. Kogan, 32, a former psychology professor, used a quiz app to collect the data, and insisted that the fine print accompanying his app said the information could be used commercially. It was a direct violation of Facebook's rules at that time, but the company does not seem to have checked regularly that the apps were following.

"Alex's lie not, Alex was not a fraud, Alex didn't wonder about them, this was not a scam," said Steve Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Kogan. "Facebook knew exactly what this app did, or should have known. Facebook desperately needed a scapegoat, and Alex was their scapegoat."

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Kogan did not ask for any particular amount. "We're going to leave it to a jury," he said.

Liz Bourgeois, a spokeswoman for Facebook, described the plot as a "relentless case" from someone who "violated our policies and endangered people's data."

Cambridge Analytica was founded by Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor, and Stephen K. Bannon, who would serve as advisor to President Trump. The consulting firm became prominent in 2016 for its work on the election campaign Trump.

The company claimed that it had used Facebook data and other information to develop analytical tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. These techniques have become widespread.

Cambridge hired Mr. Kogan as an entrepreneur in June 2014 – the same month the company was founded – and gathered the data throughout the summer by asking Facebook users to a long personality questionnaire. The questions gathered data not only from everyone who took it, but also from all their friends.

Facebook, which has since tightened its privacy protection, allowed app developers broad access to user data at that time. Many were unaware that their data was exposed, and Facebook was thrown into the worst crisis in its 14-year history after the extent of Cambridge Analytics data harvesting was revealed by The New York Times and The Observer of London.

The company has since said that as many as 87 million users were hit, and it is facing investigations by federal prosecutors and regulators as a result. At least one of these surveys is run by prosecutors from the Northern District of California, and appears to be partially focused on Facebook's claims that it was misled by Cambridge.

Federal prosecutors in New York perform what appears to be a separate criminal investigation of data agreements Facebook hit some of the world's largest technology companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix. And the Federal Trade Commission, which spent the last year investigating whether Facebook violated its Privacy Policy in 2011, now weighs a multibillion-dollar fine on Facebook. It would be the biggest penalty that was never imposed by the trade regulator.


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