The Cambridge Analytica scandal started in the US but soon embraced the whole world. At first, what began as yet another scandal involving US President Donald Trump turned out to be a dynamite which exploded not the US presidential elections, Facebook security arrangements but also Indian political campaigning.
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica (CA), started in 2013, is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis for the electoral process.
In 2014 -15, the data firm worked for various political races before working on US President Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016.
CA got exposed in March this year when The New York Times and The Observer reported on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach. According to reports, the company acquired personal information of Facebook users and used it for political purposes without users’ permission.
How is Facebook involved?
The scandal, also known as the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach case, is the data theft of a collection of personal information of about 50 million Facebook users that Cambridge Analytica began collecting in 2014. The data was used to influence voter opinion on behalf of politicians who hire them.
Various political scientists also started questioning CA’s methodologies of targeting voters. Common Cause, a US government watchdog group, has accused CA of breaking US election law in a formal complaint. The watchdog group filed two legal complaints against Cambridge Analytica with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Department of Justice.
And it didn’t take long time for Facebook data leak to reach India and prompted Indian IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to warn Facebook against any attempt to influence Indian General Elections of 2019.
“Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT minister of India. We welcome FB profiles in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of FB system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act, we shall use them, including summoning you to India,” said the IT minister.
While the social media giant faced global flak, Zuckerberg apologized and accepted their mistake. \
“We should not have trusted Cambridge Analytica’s certification, and we are not going to make that mistake again,” the CEO said while promising to step up its security. “I am really sorry that this has happened,” Zuckenberg said.
Zuckenberg has accepted the CA scam as a major breach of trust and even felt sorry for the same. He added: “We have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data, and if we can’t do that then we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.”
“We will continue to engage with the government on this matter. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect peoples’ information and will take whatever steps are required that this happens,” Facebook said in a statement.
The Indian Angle: NaMo, Chhota Bheem & technological illiteracy
With the ongoing CA data scam, while Facebook lost shares worth nearly USD 50 billion, Indians politicians got juicy material to start a blame game and explored all possible ways to link each other with the data mining firm.
On one hand, the BJP opened fire against Congress party for its alleged links with Cambridge Analytica. “The illegal use of people’s data from social media could turn out to be the Congress’ “biggest scam” and the government would launch a probe into the matter,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra has said.
On the other hand Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product and alleged that CA has played a vital role in BJP’s campaign in four states, including Bihar polls 2010 and its mission 272 plus campaign.
And thus the war of words between the BJP and the Congress continued but gradually shifted from international level to national level, from Cambridge Analytica to NaMo and INC app.
According to a security researcher, BJP’s NaMo app and Congress’ INC app was sending personal user data to a third-party domain.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress kept on trading charges on Twitter over the privacy concerns questioned by a French security researcher over Android apps of the two parties.
According to him, the NaMo Android app was sending personal user data to a third-party domain based in the US. He also said that the server for a Congress membership app was situated in Singapore.
Rahul Gandhi in a series of tweets published on his official Twitter handle alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supplying data of Indians (who had signed up for his NaMo app) to American companies.
“Modi’s NaMo App secretly records audio, video, contacts of your friends & family and even tracks your location via GPS. He’s the Big Boss who likes to spy on Indians. Now he wants data on our children. 13 lakh NCC cadets are being forced to download the app,” said Rahul Gandhi in his latest tweet.
Earlier also Rahul tweeted, “Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India’s Prime Minister. When you sign up for my official App, I give all your data to my friends in American companies. Ps. Thanks mainstream media, you’re doing a great job of burying this critical story, as always.”
The BJP came down heavily on allegations made by Gandhi. In a series of tweets, the BJP also questioned his technical literacy and competence.
“Rahul’s allegations are a classic case of technological illiteracy. He does not know that data analysis is not equivalent to spying. This new age is the age of information which Rahul ji will not understand,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said in a press conference.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani compared Rahul Gandhi to the cartoon character ‘Chota Bheem’ and tweeted, “@RahulGandhi ji, even ‘Chhota Bheem’ knows that commonly asked permission on Apps don’t tantamount to snooping.”
While alleging that the Congress party’s app has been sharing data with Singapore based servers, she tweeted, “Now that we’re talking tech, would you care to answer @RahulGandhi ji why Congress sends data to Singapore Servers which can be accessed by any Tom, Dick and Analytica?”
AND IT CONTINUES…
Did you say Indian politicians are very busy?