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Government issues notice to Facebook, seeks details on possible election interference

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The government of India has sent a show cause notice to Facebook seeking details of whether the personal data of Indian voters and users has been compromised by British data firm Cambridge Analytica or any other entities. The Indian government’s moves echo that of ones taken by regulators and legislators in other parts of the world following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The government is also seeking details on whether the data obtained from Facebook has been used to manipulate the Indian electoral process. The social media giant has been given time till April 7, to respond to the letter by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).

The government had issued a similar notice to Cambridge Analytica (CA), the British political consulting firm at the centre of the storm. The government had sought details on whether CA had been engaged in any assignment to utilize data of Indians from the reported breach. CA has until March 31 to respond.

Following last weeks revelations, IT and Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad had said, “Facebook is welcome to operate in India. I am happy that it has the largest footprint in India with around 20 crore users, but any attempt by Facebook or vendor like Cambridge Analytica to influence elections will not be tolerated.”

CA whistleblower’s revelations on India

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 current principal opposition party, Congress has been one of its clients. Wylie made this statement while deposing in front of a panel of British MPs.

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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.

A day later, Wylie tweeted out a set of slides that highlighted Strategic Communication Laboratories’ (CA’s parent company) activities in India between 2003 and 2012.

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.

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Writes about consumer technology, social media, digital services and tech policy. Is a gadget freak, gamer and Star Wars nerd.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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