Listen: Aleksandr Kogan: The link between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook
"I wanna start this episode by telling you just the very beginning of a story. I recently heard about a guy named Alex Cogan born in nineteen eighty six into a Jewish family in the Soviet Union. After the collapse in nineteen ninety one. The government loses control and Jews or even less safe than before Alex's dad's starts getting death threats. So he up and moves his entire family four generations of Cogan 's to New York City. In nineteen Ninety-four, Alex enters first grade in Brooklyn public school, he's conspicuous way taller than the other kids. He speaks no English. He's also got a talent for math and science. Once his teachers can understand him. They think he has the makings of gifted physicist. Life's not hard for him. But as he grows up he begins to see that. It isn't always easy for everybody else. Six months after they arrived in the United States. His great grandmother had jumped from their apartment window to her death. His parents the loves of each other's lives. Split up Alex cries every night until they get back together. He enters high school in one of his close friends attempt suicide another becomes clinically depressed. Alex begins to read psychology. He's a math and science kid, but he's getting more and more curious about human nature. And the first time I met him. And I really remember very distinctly because he almost always wore these giant basketball shorts. No matter what the weather is terribly dressed like a lot of Berkeley undergrads, and you know, basketball shoes that's decker Kellner the psychologist at the university of California. Berkeley who runs something called the greater good science center, where they study human emotion. We heard from him in episode one. Alex Cogan was a shambolic six foot four inch freshman back in two thousand and five when he knocked on daggers office door instead he'd like for decker to teach him. Emotions fascinated him. It come to cal- to study physics. But he'd been thinking about love about the distinction between loving and being loved. He wanted to study it the way it study a quark and now came in. He said, you know, I have seven kinds of love that I'm gonna put people into like. Wow, that's interesting. And there are twelve variations of I forgot what the other factor was that are set of conditions that he wanted create and there were eighty four different conditions in his study. So he's gonna study seven different kinds of love. And he's going gonna stay all these different variables that would would maybe predict right? The force of the love power of the low. Exactly. So he's about to make love more complicated than it's ever been. So sounds like right. He was going to confound our understanding of love decker talks Alex out of that idea. But this kid is so smart and original and full of energy. So decker takes him in. And it isn't long before Alex's finding things to do that. No one else is doing for instance, the thing that he does after they discover a gene it's associated with human kindness, and Alex did this cool paper where he showed if you present videotapes of people who have that, gene. Or this variant of gene that makes them kind. And I am an observer. And I see one of those people for twenty seconds on video. I trust them. Right. I'm like this guy. I go to battle with this guy ride. I trust this guy by the time Alex graduates from cal- he's established himself as the most promising student in the entire psychology department, and the most unusual just this big sweet natured guy with a serious talent for math and statistics and desire to study huge questions like what is love when he left and he so unconventional, Michael. He coulda gone to any graduate program in the country, and he chooses the university of Hong. On what? Because he met this woman or got engaged fell in love. Yeah. Fell in love but decker and Alex stay in touch. They collaborate on a few papers. They're both interested in big questions about human nature at the same time. Social media has started to create a new way to study those questions. In late two thousand twelve Facebook invites decker to visit and asks him to create a bunch of new emojis ones that better convey actual emotions when Dacca sees would Facebook knows about its users. He's blown away. This could be the greatest data source it will ever exist. And it would help us answer questions from the scientific perspective. Like, how does disease spread in some neighborhoods, but not others what predicts heart attacks where does hate crime, whereas it likely to happen, right? That was all tractable the data. The had meanwhile, Alex had moved to England to teach a Cambridge University. He was still researching the same stuff the positive emotions, and he too was saying possibilities in the new social media data, and I was at Facebook doing my consulting work. And I saw there. What are you doing here? And he's everywhere, you know, like, I'm working on this other project, and he told me about it. Alex Cogan told decker that he wanted to use Facebook to study things like love and happiness, for example. You might be able to take a fairly small sample of data say the likes of ten thousand Facebook users to make discoveries about those emotions in entire countries. The math was complicated enough the decker himself didn't fully understand it. He then forgot all about it until one day a year or so later when Alex Cogan called him up. He calls me after Trump's elected. And he says, I think I've done something that was part of this election as like, okay? Well, let's stock. What is it? And he said I created this mechanism that was purchased and used in the Trump campaign. Here's word of the actually it had some effect or that he'd be perceived heads affect I don't think he made that distinction. I just think he thought out now Alex Cogan sense that he might have a problem. He just had no idea how big it was going to be."