Aleksandr Kogan, at a Senate hearing, calls for stronger check on obtaining users’ content
WASHINGTON—Lawmakers said Tuesday they were weighing bipartisan privacy legislation to address data misuse at a hearing where an academic central to Facebook Inc.’s FB -0.41% recent privacy scandal suggested the government would have to intervene.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), chairman of the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee, said he was considering joining in an effort by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) to pass a privacy bill of rights in Congress.
His comments showed that the risks for big internet companies haven’t dissipated since Facebook’s scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a political data consultancy that worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and obtained data of millions of Facebook users from an app developer, Aleksandr Kogan.
Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), the chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, added that Facebook “remains under the microscope” and said lawmakers continue to examine potential measures to protect user privacy.
But key lawmakers appeared to be far from a consensus on how to proceed.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Kogan, a social psychologist and University of Cambridge lecturer, in prepared testimony, called for strengthening the system of obtaining users’ consent for subsequent use of their information. That, in turn, would require government intervention, he added, because big internet companies’ profit-making interests inevitably clash with consumers’ privacy interests.
Mr. Kogan shared data with Cambridge Analytica, a political data consultancy that worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, that he had gathered from Facebook through an app.
The academic said Tuesday he was “very regretful” for the anger that many users felt over the revelation that their data had been passed along from Facebook through him to political consultants.
Facebook has described Mr. Kogan’s actions as “a breach of trust,” saying the academic violated its developer policies by selling the data to a third party.
Mr. Kogan said in his remarks that the controversy “points to a much broader problem with how companies interact with consumers in the tech space—in particular, the conduct of companies whose business model is predicated on digital advertising.”
But he acknowledged that “trying to fix this problem will not be simple,” given the conflict of interest between online advertising firms such as Facebook and their users.
The testimony underscores the knotty complications that face both businesses and policy makers as they consider what to do in response to the scandal.
The controversy began when Mr. Kogan collected data for research purposes from millions of Facebook users, by creating a personality-quiz app in 2013 that plugged directly into the social media giant’s platform.
At the time, Facebook’s platform allowed outsiders access to extensive data about its users as well as their Facebook connections. Within a couple of years, Facebook had severely restricted the amount of data available to outsiders. But by then, app developers like Mr. Kogan already had vast data about Facebook users in hand.
Mr. Kogan later teamed up with Cambridge Analytica and shared his information with the data-analytics firm.
On Tuesday, he said that approximately 30 million personality profiles were transferred to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.
Cambridge Analytica has said the data wasn’t used in the U.S. presidential race.