A Cambridge University academic who harvested data on tens of millions of Facebook users says he has been made a scapegoat by the social network and Britain-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
The consultancy is accused of trying to sway public opinion in favor of Donald Trump ahead of the presidential election he won in November 2016.
Facebook has been shaken by whistle-blower Chris Wylie, who said earlier this week that Cambridge Analytica, hired by Trump for the 2016 campaign, had improperly accessed information on 50 million users of the social network.
Facebook has said the data was harvested by academic Aleksandr Kogan, who developed a personality-survey application called Thisismydigitallife. It says Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data harvested through the app to Cambridge Analytica.
"My view is that I'm being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when...we thought we were doing something that was really normal," Kogan told the BBC on March 21.
"We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service."
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who was secretly recorded during a journalistic investigation, boasted that his company had played a decisive role in Trump's election victory.
Nix was suspended on March 20. In a statement, the company said his comments "do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation."
Kogan said the accuracy of the dataset had been "exaggerated" by Cambridge Analytica, and that the information was more likely to have hurt Trump's campaign than helped it.
Facebook has lost $50 billion of its stock-market value in the last two days over fears that the Cambridge Analytica scandal might damage its reputation, scare off advertisers, and trigger tougher regulation.
Kogan was born in Moldova when it was a Soviet republic, and lived in Moscow until he moved to the United States at age 7. While at Cambridge he accepted a position at St. Petersburg State University, and took Russian government grants for research.
He has called questions about whether he is linked to the Kremlin "pretty funny," saying that "anyone who knows me knows I’m a very happy-go-lucky, goofy guy, the last one to have any real links to espionage."