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MIT Technology Review

The scientist who gave Cambridge Analytica its Facebook data got lousy reviews online

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Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University academic, has long looked fishy to Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. They reviewed him negatively on a site called Turkopticon, complaining that his requests violated the service’s policy by asking them to provide access to their Facebook profiles.

Bad reviews: Numerous reviews from 2014 complain that Kogan sent out work requests—which are described alternately as having people use an app or fill out a survey—asking people to offer up Facebook likes, friend lists, and some private messages. One review says the request stated that any collected data would remain anonymous and would be used only for research.

Mechanical Turk policy prohibits those using the service from making requests that collect “personally identifiable information.”

No thanks: Rochelle LaPlante, a Mechanical Turk worker and advocate for ethical digital labor practices, turned down one of these requests in 2014—it asked her to fill out a personality survey—after realizing it wanted her Facebook profile information.

“It’s been in my mind since 2014 that something’s not right here,” she says.

Why it matters: Kogan accessed tons of Facebook user data by creating a personality-quiz app in 2013 for research purposes; he’s an important piece of Facebook’s current scandal concerning how this data was then passed on to data broker Cambridge Analytica.

What’s happening now: On Wednesday afternoon, Mark Zuckerberg broke his days-long silence about the debacle, saying Facebook is “working with regulators as they investigate what happened.”

Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica has agreed to a forensic audit conducted by a company Facebook hired, and Cambridge University is looking into Kogan’s actions.