CBI books Cambridge Analytica, Global Science over illegal data harvesting

Facebook has over 200 million users in India
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a criminal conspiracy case against UK-based Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research for illegally harvesting personal data of Facebook (FB) users in India.

The action follows a preliminary inquiry which was initiated by the investigative agency in July 2018, based on the inputs received from the Ministry of Information and Technology (Meity)on the alleged data theft.

CBI, in the first information report (FIR) filed on January 19, stated that that Facebook reported the leak of personal data of nearly 562,000 Indians users by the UK data firm. The social media platform has over 200 million users in India.

CBI's further enquiry in the case revealed that Founder and Director of Global Science Research --Aleksander Kogan has created an app-- thisisyourdigitallife. The app was only authorised to collect certain specific data for academic and research purposed in line with Facebook policy. However, the app illegally collected additional data of the users as well as their friends on FB.

The data which includes demographic information, content of private messages etc was used without the consent of app users. During the enquiry FB said that 335 users in India had installed this app and estimated that the data of about 562,000 additional users who were the part of friends’network of these 335 users has been compromised, CBI quoted FB response in the FIR.

The federal agency said that it contacted these 335 users, of which only 6 users responded and were examined.  The users, however, claimed that they were misled by the app and were unaware that their friends’ data had been harvested.

The enquiry also revealed that Global Science Research entered into a criminal conspiracy with Cambridge during 2014, and authorsaed the latter to use the harvested information for commercial purposes.

Business Standard reached out to Facebook for a response. The company was yet to respond as of the time of publishing of this report.

CBI said that FB had collected written certificates from the Kogan and Cambridge during 2016-1, declaring that all such data obtained by them through the app was destroyed. However, CBI could not authenticate claims of the Cambridge and Global Science whether they destroyed the said database.

Before referring the matter to the CBI, Meity had sought details from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for the alleged violations, extent of misuse of the personal data of Indian users and its possible misuse by Cambridge for profiling and influencing elections in India.

In a response to Meity, Cambridge said that they received data from UK-based Global Science Research pertaining to US citizens only. However, Cambridge did not say anything else in the matter.

The ministry then obtained legal opinion which suggested the preliminary enquiry in the matter.

“The facts and circumstances prima facie reveal that Cambridge, Kogan and Global Science  committed an offence punishable under various sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with criminal conspiracy,” CBI said in the FIR.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in July 2018, had said that the CBI would probe if UK data firm Cambridge Analytica violated laws to manipulate the electoral process during the 2014 elections.

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