How Russia gained access to your Facebook data
RUSSIANS gained access to the personal Facebook data of more than 87 million users, including 311,000 Australians, according to British authorities, in a further another sign the country may have interfered in the 2016 US election and Britain's Brexit vote.
The information from Facebook, gathered without users' permission by Dr Aleksander Kogan and also sold to data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, included users' religious and political views, private messages, location, gender, and likes.
The Russian revelation came just one day after a stunning backflip by US President Donald Trump, who claimed he didn't mean to say "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia," in response to claims the country influenced his election.
British MP Damian Collins, who chairs the UK's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and investigation into Cambridge Analytica, confirmed its privacy watchdog had discovered Russian interference in the information taken from Facebook users.
"The Information Commissioner in the UK is saying that she believes that the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data was accessed by people in Russia," he told CNN.
"We don't yet know who they were and what they accessed and whether they took that data or what they did with it, but that link has been established with the ICO investigation so clearly it will be really important to understand what the level of access was of people in Russia to this data and what they did with it."
Mr Collins, who has criticised Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to appear at the investigation's hearing in the past, said pinpointing what the Russians did with this information would be a crucial next step.
"Is it possible, indirectly, that the Russians learned from Cambridge Analytica and used that knowledge to run ads in American during the presidential election as well? That is something that would be a huge interest but is still the subject of ongoing information," he said.
The academic who harvested the information from Facebook, Dr Kogan, said he was unaware anyone in Russia had access to the data, even though he visited the country in May 2014 - before he sold the data to Cambridge Analytica - and in April 2016.
Dr Kogan had been working on projects sponsored by the Russian Government at St Petersburg State University.
"On my side, I am not aware of any Russian entity with access to my data," he said.
"It could have nothing to do with the Russian authorities. It could just be someone checking their mailbox."
Despite his denials, the British Information Commissioner's Office also revealed it planned to audit information held by the University of Cambridge, where Dr Kogan works, in relation to users' information.
In an interim report, released last week, Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she intended to issue Facebook an $888,000 fine - the maximum allowed - for breaching the UK's data protections laws.
"New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law," she said in a statement.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner also launched an investigation into Facebook following the scandal, and the social media giant is also facing scrutiny from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its Digital Platforms Inquiry into its effect on news and advertising in Australia.