London-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which is at the centre of the Facebook data breach storm has reportedly asked for additional time to respond to the Indian government notice on its involvement in India. The government had issued a show cause notice to the firm last week seeking details on whether Cambridge Analytica had been engaged in any assignment to utilize data of Indians from the reported breach. The firm was given until March 31 to respond.
PTI has reported that Cambridge Analytica has now sought an additional time of one week to send its response to the notice. The government questioned Cambridge Analytica on whether it had been “engaged in any assignment to utilise data of Indians” pertaining to the recent breach, and also the entities that had used its services. Details were also sought on the methods used by the company to acquire such data and whether consent was taken from users.
An official statement issued last week had said: “Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India, has issued a notice… to Cambridge Analytica, wherein the serious breach of propriety and misuse of data intended to profile and influence voting behaviour has been highlighted”. “Was there any profiling done on the basis of such data?,” the Ministry had asked the company, following reports that political parties had used the data analytics firm during elections.
A similar notice had been sent 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).
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.
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.