The Facebook data scandal has now hit Indian politics with the BJP asking about the role of Cambridge Analytica behind Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s social media profile. The UK-based data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica is at the center of a global row over allegations of stealing and using personal data of Facebook users since 2014.
Two newspapers – New York Times and Observer – had reported last week that Cambridge Analytica deceived users and Facebook to mine data of 50 million users. The data was allegedly harvested with the help of an app developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a British academic.
The company is accused of using data manipulation tricks to help Donald Trump win the US Presidential election in 2016. In a sting operation carried out by a US-based TV channel, Cambridge Analytica’s suspended chief executive Alexander Nix can be seen saying his firm played a “decisive” role in Trump’s victory. He also talks about the use of questionable practices to influence foreign elections, reported Reuters.
There have been reports suggesting the Indian National Congress of India has hired Cambridge Analytica to run 2019 Lok Sabha elections campaign. Some media reports had previously termed Cambridge Analytica as the “brahmashtra” of the Congress for dethroning Narendra Modi.
The Congress denies that it has hired the British firm. However, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today raised the issue, alleging Congress has links with Cambridge Analytica. “My question to Congress party is whether to win elections, Congress will depend on data manipulation and theft of data,” Prasad said while asking, “What is the role of Cambridge Analytica in social media profile of Rahul Gandhi.”
The Union minister alleged that the British data analytics firm has been accused of using bribes, sex workers to entrap politicians and stealing data from Facebook.
“Will Congress Party depend on data theft and manipulation to win elections? What is the role of Cambridge Analytica in social media profile of Rahul Gandhi?” Prasad was quoted as saying by ANI.
“We support the free exchange of ideas on social media but any attempt by social media including FB of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will not be tolerated. Let Facebook note it very clearly,” the BJP leader further said.
Prasad also warned Facebook, saying: “Mr. Mark Zuckerberg you better know the observation of IT Minister of India, if any data theft of Indians is done with the collusion of FB systems, it will not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act including summoning you in India.”
Prasad warned Facebook of “strong action” if attempts were made to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means.
US privacy watchdog US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is probing the alleged breach of user confidentiality by Facebook.
Congress hits back
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Indian National Congress or the Congress President has never used or never hired the services of a company called Cambridge Analytica. It is a fake agenda and white lie being dished out by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.”
“Cambridge Analytica’s linked website shows that in 2010 its services were used by BJP-JD(U). Firm’s Indian partner Ovlene Business Intelligence (OBI) is being run by BJP ally’s MP’s son. OBI company’s services were used by Rajnath Singh in 2009,” he further said.
Surjewala said that BJP “fake factory” has made one more “fake product”.
BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears fake statements, fake press conferences & fake agendas have become everyday character of BJP and its ‘Lawless’ Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad,” the Congress spokesperson said.