Cambridge University is established as one of the most respected universities in the world. That's why it was a strange moment during Mark Zuckerberg's congressional testimony on Wednesday when he suggested shady stuff is going on at Cambridge.
"There’s a whole program associated with Cambridge University where a number of researchers — not just Aleksandr Kogan, although to our current knowledge he’s the only one who sold the data to Cambridge Analytica — there are a number of the researchers who are building similar apps,” the Facebook co-founder and CEO said. "We do need to understand whether there is something bad going on at Cambridge University overall that will require a stronger action from us."
Mark Zuckerberg was referring to the University of Cambridge Pyschometrics Center. Per their website, it's a "Strategic Research Network at the University of Cambridge dedicated to research, teaching and product development in both pure and applied psychological assessment." They assess social media and online activity to conduct social media research.
For what it's worth, these people know how to throw down during the holidays.
After being ripped by Zuckerberg, Cambridge returned fire in the form of an email to Mashable:
We would be surprised if Mr Zuckerberg was only now aware of research at the University of Cambridge looking at what an individual’s Facebook data says about them. Our researchers have been publishing such research since 2013 in major peer-reviewed scientific journals, and these studies have been reported widely in international media. These have included one study in 2015 led by Dr Aleksandr Spectre (Kogan) and co-authored by two Facebook employees.
It's certainly understandable as to why Zuckerberg wants to distance himself from Cambridge. They are devoted to understanding individual psychology by using data. Congress grilled the Facebook CEO hard when it comes to the data his company collects on its users.
But Facebook's utilization (and manipulation) of its users' data for psychological research is already well-established — including with Cambridge University specifically.
"We can confirm that researchers at the Psychometrics Centre had several discussions with Facebook ahead of and around the time of the publication of their 2013 paper," Cambridge said. "Facebook also responded in detail to press queries of the study at the time."
Cambridge is also not taking the pillorying of researcher Aleksandr Kogan at face value. Kogan is accused of selling data he collected from his "thisismydigitallife" quiz app to Cambridge Analytica.
"We wrote to Facebook on 21 March to ask it to provide evidence to support its allegations about Dr Kogan," Cambridge said. "We have yet to receive a response."
Your move, Zuck.
A very interesting move by the social media mogul in taking on Cambridge. It is a university that is well-positioned to do as much damage to his company as anyone.