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Facebook scandal app builder accuses 'duplicitous' whistleblower

UK government officials grill Aleksandr Kogan, the man who funneled Facebook users' data to Cambridge Analytica.

Aleksandr Kogan, who says he's a scapegoat in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversy, accused other players in the scandal of lying as he appeared Tuesday before government officials.

Looking relaxed and even cracking a couple of jokes, Kogan talked MPs led by Damian Collins through the timeline of his involvement with Cambridge University, SCL Elections and Facebook. However, questions ground to a halt when he revealed he was under a nondisclosure agreement with Facebook that prevented him from talking about his relationship with the social network.

Watch the video of Kogan appearing before a UK government inquiry into fake news below.

Kogan is a key player in the revelations surrounding Facebook and data consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. A researcher at the University of Cambridge, Kogan created a Facebook app in 2013 that harvested anonymous user data from millions of Facebook users. Later he created another quiz app that collected user data with names, and sold the data on to a company called SCL with ties to controversial company Cambridge Analytica. Although he said he never had a contract with Cambridge Analytica, Kogan admitted that he worked closely with its staff, including suspended CEO Alexander Nix, who has already faced the UK committee.

During Tuesday's inquiry, Kogan accused both Nix and SCL whistleblower Christopher Wylie of lying about their relationships. Kogan accused Nix of "total fabrications" in his earlier testimony to the committee. He also said that Wylie has "invented many things", including a claim that Wylie broke off their relationship when he realised Kogan was pursuing a commercial rather than academic enterprise.

Among their conversations, Kogan said he and Nix discussed campaigning in UK elections. However he speculated his work may not have affected Donald Trump's campaign in the 2016 US presidential election after Ted Cruz's campaign was disappointed with earlier results. Ultimately he played down the accuracy of his work, saying he didn't know his dataset would be used for targeting ads at Facebook users. Kogan rubbished the idea his data was accurate enough for ads as "scientifically ridiculous" and "a colossal waste of time and money".

Kogan also answered questions about his former business partner Joseph Chancellor, who now works for Facebook, as well as his involvement with Russia's University of St Petersberg and a business address that Damian Collins suggested could be linked to Russian money laundering. The Moldova-born scientist, who moved to the US at the age of 7, said the Russian connections were "coincidence" and "a big leap".

Kogan said he thought the use of Facebook user data for political purpose was "business as usual", saying he didn't think Facebook's policies were valid -- and besides, he didn't read them.

He previously said he had assumed his actions were acceptable. "I think that the core idea we had," he told CBS' 60 Minutes this weekend, "that everybody knows and nobody cares, was wrong. For that, I am sincerely sorry." (Editors' note: CNET is owned by CBS.)

Kogan and others from the academic world are sometimes allowed access to Facebook data for the purposes of research -- often in collaboration with the university itself. Kogan told the UK committee that Facebook provided anonymised data to him for academic research separately from the data sold on to SCL and Cambridge Analytica, without a signed agreement or any requirement to delete or return it. He said that Facebook later asked him to delete the anonymous data in 2015 and he did so. When discussing the deletion of data, he described it as "an honour system".

After the revelations surfaced in March, Kogan said he was being made "a scapegoat" by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, which suspended the researcher from the platform.

During Tuesday's inquiry, Kogan smiled as he explained why he had previously changed his name to "Dr Spectre". He said he was inspired by his father's surgeon with a similar name as he said he didn't know of the evil organisation in the James Bond series.

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