From left: whistleblower Christopher Wylie, Dr Alexander Kogan, and Steve BannonLouis Ashworth/University of Cambridge/The Guardian/YouTube/Gage Skidmore

A Cambridge neuroscience lecturer has been banned from Facebook after the company revealed he had violated the platform’s policies by releasing data as part of an political operation which may have been used to influence the US presidential election.

Dr Aleksandr Kogan, a University lecturer at the Department of Psychology, has been placed at the heart of an international investigation conducted by The New York Times, The Guardian/Observer and Channel 4, which alleges he played a prominent role in developing strategies to change voters’ behaviour while working for the controversial data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica.

In a statement, released yesterday, Paul Grewal, vice-president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said Kogan had failed to “abide by our rules” in his usage of data gathered from tens of millions of users through an app he created, ‘thisisyourdigitallife’.

“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe,” Grewal said.

“When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed,” he continued. “Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.”


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Who is Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic accused of misusing Facebook data?

The admission from the social media giant emerged simultaneous to revelations in the media from whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who said Kogan had produced social media algorithms which facilitated alleged efforts by data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica to influence the outcome of the 2016 US general election, in which Donald Trump was elected.

In an interview with The Guardian/Observer, Wylie described how Cambridge Analytica courted the attention of Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of alt-right news website, Breitbart, and former chief strategist to Trump.

According to Wylie, before the 2016 presidential election the company set up a “fake office” in Cambridge to which Bannon was taken while he visited the UK to give the impression that Cambridge Analytica, an independent company, had prestigious academic links to the University. Wylie also claimed that it was Bannon who suggested the company use the word “Cambridge” in its name.

Cambridge Analytica has rejected all the allegations that were put to it by The Guardian/Observer.

In a statement today, the University of Cambridge said: “It is important to make clear that, despite its name, Cambridge Analytica has no connection or association with the University whatsoever.”

Facebook said that Kogan used an app to gather information from users of the social media platform, which he then broke the company’s rules by sharing with Cambridge Analytica. Wylie said Kogan used the data to create psychological profiles of users that allowed them to be micro-targeted by political influence campaigns.

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The Guardian/Observer has also alleged that Kogan’s colleagues at the Department of Psychology were unaware that he was simultaneously holding an academic position at the University of St Petersburg, through which he received funding directly from the Russian government. The University has claimed that the head of the department at the time was aware of Kogan’s other position.

Varsity has contacted Dr Kogan for comment.

The University said that it had received assurances that there was not a conflict between Kogan’s academic role and his work for Cambridge Analytica. It also said it had no reason to believe Kogan used University facilities while gathering data.

“We are aware that Dr Kogan established his own company, Global Science Research (GSR), of which SCL/Cambridge Analytica was a client,” its statement said. “It is not uncommon for Cambridge academics to have business interests, but they must satisfy the University that these are held in a personal capacity and that there are no conflicts of interest,” adding “It is our understanding that the thisisyourdigitallife app was created by GSR.”

“Based on assurances from Dr Kogan as well as the evidence available to us, we have no reason to believe he used University data or facilities for his work with GSR, and therefore that there is no reason to believe the University’s data and facilities were used as the basis for GSR’s subsequent work with any other party.”