Two Cambridge University academics who pioneered the use of Facebook data for science say they were approached by Cambridge Analytica to carry out work for the consultancy firm but refused on ethical grounds.
Dr David Stillwell, the deputy director of The Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge, is credited with leading the way in harnessing the power of big data through social media with his myPersonality project.
The personality quiz was started on Facebook in June 2007 in the very early days of the social network when it had a paltry 20 million users.
The survey was jointly worked on by fellow Cambridge academic Michal Kosinski who is now assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
It was extremely successful garnering more than eight million respondents and helping hundreds of psychologists with their scientific research.
The team went on to develop even more powerful computer software that could predict personality through social media, including the Apply Magic Sauce prediction application which is still available online.
Now it has been revealed that in 2014, fellow Cambridge University Academic Dr Aleksandr Kogan introduced the two men to Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.
It proposed to provide funds to Dr Kogan's private company, Global Science Research (GSR), to collect new data from Facebook users.
It also proposed that the academics used the methods they had developed with their Apply Magic Sauce app to predict personality scores from GSR's new data.
The academics say they refused and raised concerns about the private research with Cambridge University.
In an email thread shown to Sky News between the two academics, Dr Kosinski expresses his worries about the work that Dr Kogan was proposing to do.
He wrote: "In my opinion his approach is highly unethical, but I am not sure if it is worth to stir before his plans are actually materialised (e.g. he receives the contract).
"There is a large chance that he will either correct his ways or simply fail to get it anyway."
It is alleged by a whistleblower and former worker of Cambridge Analytica that the work was carried out by Dr Kogan and that the data of 50 million users was harvested – many without consent.
It is also alleged that it was used by Cambridge Analytica to micro-target voters in the presidential campaign to elect Donald Trump.
Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing and says it deleted the data as soon as it was asked to by Facebook.
In another document seen by Sky News, Cambridge Analytica claims that Dr Stillwell and Dr Kosinski were "demanding a licence fee of circa $500,000" for their services.
Dr Stillwell says he did discuss money in the form of research funding which would have gone to the university but that he wasn't ever agreeing to sell Facebook data to the company.
He said: "As you can imagine, accusing a senior colleague of following a 'highly unethical' approach is no small matter, and one that we would not take lightly and would hope to avoid.
"Even now, I have avoided talking publicly to the press about Kogan's actions, given that he remains a Cambridge colleague.
"However, I hope that our character is supported by the evidence that we did not continue with the project and that we raised our concerns with the university once it became clear what Dr Kogan planned to do."
Dr Aleksandr Kogan has not been contactable for comment but has previously stated that he feels he is being "scapegoated".
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He told the Guardian: "When we initially envisioned doing the project with SCL, we had planned for it to be collaboration with Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell at the Psychometrics Centre
"Even though I very much wanted to work with Michal and David, SCL felt that their position of a fee of $500,000 for the modelling portion of the project was not warranted. And so SCL asked me to remove Michal and David from the project."