In advance of his upcoming testimony before the UK Parliament, Aleksandr Kogan wants the public to know two things: he’s sorry, and he’s not a Russian agent. (Kogan, who was born in Moldova, moved to the Soviet Union as a child before eventually emigrating to the United States, where he became a citizen.
Kogan, who authored the initial Facebook app created at the behest of Cambridge Analytica, has now come forward. He recently granted interviews to , BuzzFeed News, and CBS’ . (Kogan did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.)
It was Kogan’s 2014 app, “This is Your Digital Life,” which invited users to log in with their Facebook credentials and answer a slew of survey questions in exchange for $4. Those respondents also allowed Kogan and his team access to their friends’ public profile data. In the end, this system captured data on 87 million Facebook users. This data trove ultimately wound up in the hands of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign when it hired the London-based firm.
“Back then, we thought it was fine. Right now, my opinion has really been changed,” Kogan told the . “I think that the core idea we had—that everybody knows, and nobody cares—was wrong,” he added. “For that, I am sincerely sorry.”
As he explained to CBS: “It seems crazy now. But this was a core feature of the Facebook platform for years. This was not a special permission you had to get. This was just something that was available to anybody who wanted it who was a developer.”
Once this debacle was recently made public, outrage abounded from Facebook users and from public officials—CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before two Senate committees earlier this month over the course of 10 hours across two days.
In the wake of a former Cambridge Analytica employee coming forward, Facebook has called Kogan’s app and Cambridge Analytica’s actions a “breach of trust.”
Kogan told CBS that this has been “frustrating.”
“If I had any inkling that what we were going to do was going to destroy my relationship with Facebook, I would’ve never done it,” he said. “If I had any inkling that I was going to cause people to be upset, I would’ve never done it. This was the blindness we had back then.”
Kogan has now been unfairly blackballed, as he sees it, by the company. Not only has he been booted from Facebook itself, but he told BuzzFeed News that he thinks that he is “toxic” and won’t be hired anywhere. His San Francisco survey startup appears to be “dead in the water.”
Curiously, the Cambridge University professor also said that he had a relationship with Facebook that began in 2013 and ramped up in 2015.
“At no point during these two years was Facebook aware of Kogan’s activities with Cambridge Analytica,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, said in a statement sent to numerous media outlets, including Ars.
“It was not until December 2015 that we first learned Kogan had broken Facebook’s terms of service by selling to Cambridge Analytica Facebook information collected via an app he built. We quickly shut down his app, demanded he delete all the information (which he confirmed in a signed statement he had), and ended any research work with him. In hindsight, we should have followed up to confirm he had deleted the information, as well as notified the people impacted—both of which are now happening.”
There still is a Facebook employee, Joseph Chancellor—whom Kogan says he “did everything with”—who remains with the company.
Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, declined to respond to Ars’ specific questions about Chancellor.
“I can say that the review of the situation is ongoing,” Stone emailed.