Twitter sold data to Cambridge Analytica-affiliated researcher Aleksandr Kogan, The Telegraph revealed yesterday. Kogan created tools for Cambridge Analytica, helping the consultancy firm profile and target potential voters. Mr. Kogan’s own commercial enterprise, Global Science Research, was granted access to Twitter data in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light.
In March this year, Bloomberg released a special report, profiling Mr. Kogan. Aleksandr Kogan, who also goes under Alex Spectre, moved to the U.S. from Russia as a child and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 2008. He joined Cambridge University in 2012 and is still a research associate at the university’s psychology department.
While at Cambridge, Kogan formed a company called Global Science Research. Among other things, his company launched an app that offered Facebook users personality predictions, in exchange for accessing their personal information. Kogan’s company would match the results of these surveys with the users’ Facebook likes and the likes of their friends – this allowed them to reach and profile tens of millions of people, although only 207,000 had actually downloaded the app. But, it also allowed them to predict Facebook user personalities based on digital behavior. Some of the mined data – names, locations, genders, ages and predicted test scores of millions of American Facebook users – was later given to Cambridge Analytica.
Before the 2016 election, Cambridge Analytica was a relatively obscure consulting company. In January 2017, Motherboard published a special report about the company, detailing how it had used Facebook data to help the Donald Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
A lot has happened since. Special counsel Robert Mueller requested files from Cambridge Analytica in relation to Russian interference in U.S. presidential election, the scale of data harvesting has turned out to be much bigger than previously thought, Cambridge Analytica’s executives have been caught on tape boasting about what they do, Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the scandal and testified before Congress. This information is clearly laid out in a timeline created and regularly updated by CNBC.
The most recent revelation comes from The Telegraph – the full version of the report has been republished by the Sydney Morning Herald. As it turns out, Aleksandr Kogan bought data from Twitter in 2015. Over a five-month period (between December 2014 and April 2015) through his company Global Science Research, Mr. Kogan bought tweets, location data, photos, profile pictures, and usernames.
Twitter said it had banned Global Science Research, as well as Cambridge Analytica from buying data or running ads on the platform.
A Twitter spokesman confirmed the ban.
“Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices. Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”