June 14, 2018 / 3:13 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. Senate panel to call key Cambridge Analytica figure to testify

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate Commerce Committee panel plans to call a former Cambridge Analytica contractor at the centre of a scandal involving the use of data from millions of Facebook users, a committee spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University who created a personality quiz to collect users data on Facebook, gives evidence to Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committe in Westminster, London, Britain, April 24, 2018.

The panel’s subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security will hold a hearing next Tuesday on data privacy risks focussing on Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy, and other Facebook Inc partners, the committee announced Wednesday.

The session follows hearings in April with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and will focus “on the collection and use of social media data, the privacy concerns raised in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, and potential steps to protect consumers,” the committee said in a statement.

The committee will call Aleksandr Kogan, a contractor for Cambridge Analytica, to testify, the committee said. A lawyer for Kogan, Jonathan S. Sack, confirmed that Kogan will appear.

Facebook said in April that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. The London-based consultancy’s clients included President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Facebook says Kogan harvested the data by creating an app on the social media network that was downloaded by 270,000 people, providing access not only to their own personal data but also data from their friends. Facebook said Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica disputed Facebook’s estimate of how many users were affected.

Cambridge Analytica and its British parent, SCL Elections Ltd, said in May that they would shut down immediately and begin bankruptcy proceedings in both the United Kingdom and the United States after suffering a sharp drop in business. Cambridge Analytica filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New York last month.

In April, Kogan, who worked for the University of Cambridge, told British lawmakers that all the data he collected had, to the best of his knowledge, been deleted. He said he would double-check that none remained.

“This has been a very painful experience, because, when I entered into all of this, Facebook was a close ally,” Kogan said. “I was thinking this would be helpful to my academic career and my relationship with Facebook. It has very clearly done the complete opposite.”

Also set to appear at next week’s hearing are John Battelle, who helped found Wired Magazine and is a board member of database marketing company Acxiom Corp, and Ashkan Soltani, who was former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission during the administration of President Barack Obama.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft

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