Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock on Mars, you’ve likely heard about a little scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Cambridge Analytica got its hands on millions of people’s Facebook likes in 2014 by getting an academic, Aleksander Kogan, to design an app with a personality test that hoovered up data from the 250,000 or so Facebook users that took it, as well as from their millions of friends. Cambridge Analytica supposedly used all those likes combined with the magic of big data to put Donald Trump in the White House.
Now that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced in response to this a plan to “investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014,” it’s a good time to look more closely at the project that inspired Kogan and Cambridge Analytica. This whole thing wasn’t their idea, after all; they copied it from the University of Cambridge, where Kogan had been a lecturer. The U.K. university’s psychometrics department had its own personality test which had been hoovering up Facebook users’ data since 2007, but, as the New York Times reported, and Kogan recently confirmed in an email, it refused to sell the dataset to the entity that became Cambridge Analytica (inspiring them to replicate the experiment).