The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a case against British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica for allegedly improperly accessing and misusing the personal data of 5.62 lakh Indian Facebook users in 2018, NDTV reported on Friday. It is alleged that the political consultancy firm used the data to influence elections in India.
The central agency also named Global Science Research, another company based out of the United Kingdom, in the case. Cambridge Analytica had received data from Global Science Research, which employed “illegal means” of personal data harvesting of Facebook users in India, reported the Hindustan Times.
Union Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had told the Rajya Sabha in 2018 that there will be a CBI probe into the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data theft case. An initial inquiry was started by the agency in August 2018.
The case involves the misuse of data of an estimated 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which shut down in May, 2018. The firm, without authorisation, harvested personal data of 50 million Facebook users through a seemingly harmless personality quiz. This information was then allegedly used to tailor messages to voters to influence the 2016 US presidential elections, won by Donald Trump.
The row also had an India connection: The firm’s website claimed that it worked on the Bihar elections in 2010 and helped its “client achieve a landslide victory”. That election was won by the Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party combine. Though Cambridge Analytica had not been founded at that point, its parent company, Strategic Communications Limited, was reportedly involved in the election campaign through an Indian affiliate, Ovleno Business Intelligence. The Indian company is run by Amrish Tyagi, the son of JD(U) MP KC Tyagi. The JD(U) has denied any collusion with Cambridge Analytica.
The BJP and the Congress have also since traded barbs, accusing each other of having used the firm’s services to swing elections in the country.
In April 2018, Facebook said that the data of more than five lakh Indian users had been compromised in the scandal. The breach occurred after 335 Indian Facebook users downloaded an app owned by Global Science Research, which later sold the information to Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook faced tremendous criticism after it was found that the website was aware that Cambridge Analytica had been harvesting its users’ data for years. The social networking platform was also slammed for its weak privacy structures that allowed such data to be obtained and misused.