Facebook told it is looking into ties between one of its current employees and Cambridge Analytica Data Violation, the controversial data firm that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Joseph Chancellor, now a researcher at Facebook ( ), was a director of Global Science Research, a company that provided data to Cambridge Analytica. The New York Times and The Observer newspaper in London reported Saturday that Cambridge Analytica harvested information on 50 million Facebook users.
Facebook announced it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, Chancellor’s former business colleague, from using its platform while it investigates.
Facebook said in a blog post that Aleksandr Kogan “lied to us” and “violated” its policies in 2015 “by passing data” to a third party, including Cambridge Analytica.
The nature of Chancellor’s role as a director of Global Science Research and his knowledge of Aleksandr Kogan’s data collection practices are not clear. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica said “there was no recollection of any interactions or emails with” Chancellor.
Facebook didn’t mention Global Science Research in its blog post. But Cambridge Analytica said Saturday that it contracted the company in 2014 to “undertake a large scale research project in the United States.”
Global Science Research was incorporated in May 2014 and listed Aleksandr Kogan and Chancellor as directors, according to UK government records. (The records show that Global Science Research was dissolved in October 2017.)
On his work profile, Chancellor describes himself as a quantitative social psychologist. Aleksandr Kogan and Chancellor were both at the University of Cambridge when they set up Global Science Research, according to their LinkedIn profiles. According to Chancellor’s LinkedIn profile, he joined Facebook in November 2015.
A spokesperson for Cambridge University told that Aleksandr Kogan, who still works for the university, assured them “that none of the data from his academic research was transferred for commercial use.” Cambridge University could not immediately say if it asked Chancellor for similar assurances.
The data on FB users was gathered through a survey app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” According to the Cambridge University spokesperson, the app was developed by Global Science Research.
The Cambridge spokesperson said Aleksandr Kogan told the university that the app made clear it was for commercial, and not academic, research. But Facebook disputes that point. The description about the app given to Facebook (in 2014) by Aleksandr Kogan stated :
“This app is part of a research program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge,” the description stated. “We are using this app for research purposes – learning about how people’s Facebook behaviour can be used to better understand their psychological traits, well-being, health, etc and overcome classic problems in social science. Users of the app will be presented with a description of the types of data we gather and the scientific purpose of the data.”
The description continued, “Users will be informed that the data will be carefully protected and never used for commercial purposes.”
While Aleksandr Kogan’s collection of the data complied with Facebook policy, how he allegedly shared the data was not. Facebook said it ordered Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica to delete the data when it determined Aleksandr Kogan had breached its policies in 2015.