Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica (CA) employee who unveiled the consulting firm’s misuse of Facebook data, said that the firm has worked extensively in India and the Congress party has been one of its clients. Wylie made this statement while deposing in front of a panel of British MPs.
Wylie testified before the MPs late on Tuesday and spoke about the various countries that the controversial political firm has worked in, including developing nations such as Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, besides India.
Labour Party MP Paul Farrelly brought up India referring to it as a “country rife with political discord” with “opportunities for destabilisation”, and added that Facebook’s largest user base is in India. (India overtook the United States as the country with the highest number of Facebook users in July last year.) The Print reported that, at this point, someone in the background is heard saying Cambridge Analytica has worked extensively in India, which Wylie acknowledges. “They have an office in India,” he said.
Wylie said, “I believe their client was Congress, but I know that they’ve done all kinds of projects both regionally…I don’t remember a national project, I know regionally.”…“I mean India is so big, one state could be as big as Britain. But they do have offices there, they do have staff there. I believe I have some documentation on India which I can also provide to the committee,” he added.
All documents provided to the questioning committee — the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British government — will be made public.
Wylie shares more details on India
Following requests by Indian journalists, Wylie tweeted out a set of slides that highlighted Strategic Communication Laboratories’ (CA’s parent company) activities in India between 2003 and 2012.
The slides highlight that the firm has offices in 10 cities in India. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cuttack, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Indore, Kolkata, Patna and Pune all have regional offices and the national head office is in Ghaziabad which falls within the Delhi-NCR.
The most interesting and concerning aspect of the slides is that Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) was involved in research and analysis of caste, specifically through the prism of electoral behaviour. Understanding caste dynamics is key to winning elections in India but caste divisions have led to violence in parts of the country. SCL’s fast-and-loose approach with data makes their possession any data on caste divisions a terrifying prospect.
Below is a screenshot of the slide that reveals of all the activities undertaken by the firm till 2012 as revealed by Wylie.
Parties volley allegations at each other
The Congress has maintained that it never hired Cambridge Analytica. On Tuesday, the party dared Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to file a first information report against the firm and its Indian partners and also against Facebook on the basis of the evidence obtained by the government.
The Congress’ response came after Prasad demanded an apology from the opposition party. “Today the whistle-blower Christopher Wylie has confirmed that Cambridge Analytica worked with Congress. This has exposed (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi who was denying (it) all along. Congress and Rahul Gandhi must now apologise,” Prasad said.
Last week, Prasad had mentioned “numerous reports” of Congress involvement with Cambridge Analytica and called upon its leader Rahul Gandhi to “explain” the company’s role in his social media outreach.
The Congress, for its part, hit back saying that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who used the firm and not them.
The Congress Party’s Randeep Surjewala responded to the allegations by pointing out that SCL India’s Director, Amrish Tyagi’s involvement in Rajnath Singh’s 2009 campaign and that Ovleno Business Intelligence’s (Cambridge Analytica’s Indian partner) website mentions BJP and its ally JDU as clients. Surjewala though strangely forgets to mention that the same website also lists the Congress party as a client.
While details are thin, it is very likely that both parties have in some form engaged with Strategic Communication Laboratories and its Indian partner OBI.