Aleksandr Kogan (scientist)

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Aleksandr Kogan
BornApril 6, 1986
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
University of Hong Kong (MA, PhD)
Occupation(s)CEO of Philometrics, psychologist and data scientist, University of Cambridge

Aleksandr Kogan (born April 6, 1986) is a Moldovan-born American scientist, who is known for his research on the link between oxytocin and kindness,[2] and for having developed the app that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect personal details of 30 million Facebook users.[3] He worked as a University Lecturer at the University of Cambridge from 2012-2018[4] and is currently a technology entrepreneur.[5][6][7]

Early life[edit]

Kogan was born in what was then the Moldavian SSR in the USSR (now independent Moldova).[8][9] After Kogan’s family received death threats for being Jewish, his family immigrated to the United States when Kogan was seven.[10] He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008, and a PhD from the University of Hong Kong in 2011.

Academic career[edit]

Following his PhD, Kogan worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto before moving to University of Cambridge.[11] He worked as a University Lecturer and Senior Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge from 2012 until 2018.[12] At Cambridge, Kogan founded the Cambridge Prosociality and Well-being lab, where he and his students conducted research on understanding the biology and psychology of love, close relationships, happiness, and kindness.[4][13]

Early in his career, Kogan and his colleagues authored numerous works revolving around the importance of communal strength, appreciation, and approach/avoidance goals in romantic relationships.[14][15][16]

Later, Kogan researched the links between oxytocin and social processes.[2] Findings from Kogan’s research suggest that individuals with the GG variant of the oxytocin-receptor gene were viewed as more trustworthy.[17] Kogan and his lab have authored numerous other papers linking oxytocin to positive emotions, facial mimicry,[18] and theory of mind.[19] In related work, Kogan found that baseline vagus nerve activity was also related to people’s well-being.[20]

After arriving at Cambridge, Kogan established a research collaboration with Facebook.[12] As part of this collaboration, Facebook provided to Kogan data on 57-billion friendships across the world aggregated to the national level.[21] Kogan’s lab then collected data from individuals using a Facebook app he had developed. This data collection was approved by the University of Cambridge ethics board.[12] Combining these two data sources, Kogan’s lab published research showing that individuals with low socio-economic status have more international friends than people with high socio-economic status.[22]

Global Science Research and Cambridge Analytica[edit]

In 2014, Kogan founded Global Science Research (GSR).[23] As part of GSR, Kogan and his team developed the app, named "This Is Your Digital Life," that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect personal details of allegedly 80 million Facebook users.[8]

In 2018, the project gained widespread publicity following reporting by the New York Times and the Guardian, leading to investigations in both the UK and the United States.[24] At the center of the controversy, Christopher Wylie, a former SCL employee who left the company in 2014, suggested that the data Kogan collected was a strong departure from previous election efforts and could be used for highly persuasive psychological targeting.[25] Wylie contended that the data could be used as a psychological weapon.[26] Professor Eitan Hersh, an expert on elections, testified to Congress that Wylie’s claims were inaccurate, and that the work of Cambridge Analytica did not excessively impact the outcome of the 2016 election.[27] In interviews with BBC Radio 4's Today, CNN, and 60 Minutes, Kogan similarly argued that the data lacked the efficacy to make an appreciable impact.[8][13][28] He also said that he was being used as a scapegoat by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.[8][13]

ICO Investigation[edit]

Following a roughly two year investigation, the UK’s data watchdog (ICO) concluded that many of Cambridge Analytica’s sales materials and Wylie’s initial claims had been exaggerated.[29] In a letter to parliament, the ICO stated that Cambridge Analytica had mainly used “well recognised processes using commonly available technology”. Internal communications at Cambridge Analytica also indicated “there was a degree of scepticism within SCL as to the accuracy or reliability of the processing being undertaken. There appeared to be concern internally about the external messaging when set against the reality of their processing”.[29] The ICO also found that data from 30 million people–rather than the 87 million initially reported–was shared with Cambridge Analytica.[30]

Russian Spy Allegations[edit]

Some initial reports during the controversy suggested Kogan could be a Russian spy.[9][31] This was based on Kogan having been born in the USSR and that Kogan also had an affiliation with the University of St. Petersburg in Russia, receiving funding for research on social media data and giving three lectures (in Russian) there since 2014.[32][33] The University of Cambridge stated that Kogan had received prior approval from Cambridge before accepting the position.[4] Kogan also challenged the logic of the claims, pointing out that he also received funding for research from UK, US, Canadian, and Chinese governments, and that his family immigrated from the former USSR because of death threats.[31]

At the time of the controversy, Kogan was the chief executive officer of Philometrics, another big data analytics firm.[5][6]

Settlement with the Federal Trade Commission[edit]

In 2019, Kogan settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that he misled the initial survey takers. The FTC claimed the GSRApp had declared that no identifiable information about the participant would be collected–but “the GSRApp collected the Facebook User ID of those users who authorized it.” As part of the settlement, Kogan neither admitted nor denied the allegations of the complaint.[34]

After Cambridge Analytica[edit]

From 2019-2023, Kogan worked as the Chief technology officer of the automated customer service company HiOperator alongside his wife and company chief executive officer Elizabeth Tsai.[35] HiOperator has received over $1.25 million from 43 North, a Buffalo, New York accelerator program founded by Empire State Development and the State of New York intended to bring technology-related businesses and employment opportunities to the Western New York region.

Personal life[edit]

Kogan legally changed his last name to Spectre from 2015-2017 as a result of marriage.[9]


  1. ^ Horwitz, Josh (23 April 2018). "Cambridge Analytica's key researcher says his work's impact on elections is "not a real worry"". Quartz. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b Tuesday, 15 November 2011 AFP (November 15, 2011). "Strangers can spot 'kindness' gene: study".
  3. ^ Meredith, Sam (2018-04-10). "Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: A timeline of the data hijacking scandal". CNBC. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  4. ^ a b c "Dr Aleksandr Kogan :: Cambridge Neuroscience". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Philometrics". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Aleksandr Kogan: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". 19 March 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  7. ^ "43North Announces $1 million in Follow On Funding for HiOperator". 43North. 15 June 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d Weaver, Matthew (21 March 2018). "Facebook scandal: I am being used as scapegoat – academic who mined data". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "Who is Dr Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic accused of misusing Facebook data?". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Transcription for The Alex Kogan Experience - Against the Rules with Michael Lewis". PodScribe.
  11. ^ Adams, Richard (20 March 2018). "Cambridge University asks Facebook for evidence about role of academic". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  12. ^ a b c "Statement from the University of Cambridge about Dr Aleksandr Kogan". University of Cambridge. 23 March 2018.
  13. ^ a b c O'Sullivan, Donie (20 March 2018). "Scientist at center of data controversy says Facebook is making him a scapegoat". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  14. ^ Kogan, A., Impett, E. A., Oveis, C., Hui, B, Gordon, A. M., & Keltner, D. (2010). When giving feels good: The intrinsic benefits of sacrifice in romantic relationships for the communally motivated. Psychological Science, 21, 1918-1924.
  15. ^ Impett, E. A., Gordon, A. M., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., Gable, & S. L., & Keltner, D.(2010). Moving toward more perfect unions: Daily and long-term consequences of approach and avoidance goals in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 948-963.
  16. ^ Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 257-274.
  17. ^ Kogan, A., Saslow, L., Impett, E.A., Oveis, C., Keltner, D., & Saturn, S. (2011). A thin-slicing study of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene and the evaluation and expression of the prosocial disposition. Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 19189-19192.
  18. ^ Pavarini, G., Sun, R., Mahmoud, M., Cross, I., Schnall, S., Fischer, A., Deakin, J.,Ziauddeen, H., Kogan, A., Vuillier, L. (2019). The role of oxytocin in the facial mimicry of affiliative vs. non-affiliative emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 109, [104377].
  19. ^ Sun, R., Vuillier, L., Deakin, J., & Kogan, A. (2020). Oxytocin Increases Emotional Theory of Mind, But Only for Low Socioeconomic Status Individuals. Heliyon, 6(3), [e03540]
  20. ^ Kogan, A., Oveis, C., Carr, E., Gruber, J. Mauss. I. B., Shallcross, A., Impett, E., van der lowe, I., Hui, B., Cheng, C., & Keltner, D. (2014). Vagal activity is quadratically related to prosocial traits, prosocial emotions, and observer perceptions of prosociality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  21. ^ "Facebook gave data about 57bn friendships to academic". the Guardian. March 22, 2018.
  22. ^ Yearwood, M. H., Cuddy, A., *Lamba, N., * Youyou, W., *van der Lowe, I., Piff, P., Gorintin, C., Fleming, P., Simon-Thomas, E., Keltner, D., & Spectre, A. (2015). On wealth and the diversity of friendships: High social class people around the world have fewer international friends. Personality and Individual Differences.
  23. ^ "TIMELINE-Cambridge Analytica lists events leading to Facebook data row". Reuters. March 22, 2018 – via
  24. ^ Gilbert, Alexandra Ma, Ben. "Facebook understood how dangerous the Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica could be much earlier than it previously said. Here's everything that's happened up until now". Business Insider.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Dreyfuss, Bob (March 21, 2018). "Cambridge Analytica's Psy-Ops Warriors". Rolling Stone.
  26. ^ "United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary".
  27. ^ "Eitan Hersh's Written Testimony to the Senate" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on October 10, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  28. ^ "Aleksandr Kogan: The link between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook". CBSnews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  29. ^ a b "Cambridge Analytica sought to use Facebook data to predict partisanship for voter targeting, UK investigation confirms". 6 October 2020.
  30. ^ Kang, Cecilia; Frenkel, Sheera (April 4, 2018). "Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica Harvested Data of Up to 87 Million Users". The New York Times – via
  31. ^ a b Mac, Ryan (22 April 2018). "Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Aleksandr Kogan Wants You To Know He's Not A Russian Spy". Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  32. ^ Cohen, Marshall (21 March 2018). "Cambridge Analytica researcher touted data-mining in Russia speech". Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  33. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (17 March 2018). "Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university". Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Aleksandr Kogan and Alexander Nix, In the Matter of". Federal Trade Commission. 24 July 2019.
  35. ^ "About US". HiOperator.