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Data harvesting: CBI books Cambridge Analytica, another UK firm

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New Delhi, Jan 22, 2021-
The CBI has registered a case against UK-based Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research Limited in a case of alleged “illegal harvest” of personal data of 5.62 lakh Indian Facebook users.

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official told: “The agency registered the case on January 19 against Cambridge Analytica represented by Alexander Nix and Global Science Research Limited represented by Aleksandr Kogen under the Information Technology Act.”

The case was registered after the CBI registered a Preliminary Enquiry in July 2018 on the central government’s recommendation. The CBI PE came after Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that the probe will be handed over to the central agency.

The PE was registered after number of media reports appeared with respect to alleged illegal harvesting of personal data of Facebook users and their friends by Cambridge Analytica (CA) through Global Science Research Limited (GSR).

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had sought details from Facebook and CA for the alleged violations and its possible misuse by Cambridge Analytica for profiling and influencing elections in India.

The CBI had examined a set of details shared by CA and Facebook in its ongoing probe into alleged data harvesting of Indians from the social media platform.

The agency had sought the data from CA and Facebook, based in Britain and the US respectively, in order to know the method of data collection by the CA, the political consultation firm that combined data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during the electoral processes.

Facebook reported that the data of potentially 5.62 lakh Indians users might have been illegally harvested. CA Limited had not responded to MeitY’s further correspondence, it stated.

In the PE, it was revealed that Kogan, had created an application named “thisisyourdigitallife”.

“As per the platform policy for Facebook, the application was authorised to collect certain specific data of the users for academic and research purposes. The application, however, illegally collected additional unauthorised data of the user as well as their friends’ network on Facebook,” the CBI alleged.

The PE further revealed that the data was collected “without the knowledge and the consent” of the application users.

“The data collected includes demographic information, pages liked on Facebook contents of private messages etc,” it said.

The CBI said that Facebook communicated to the agency that 335 users in India had installed this application. “They have estimated that data of approximately 5.62 lakh additional users who were part of the friends network of these 335 users had also been harvested illegally by the application,” it said.

The CBI said that during investigation, 335 application users were contacted by the Inquiry Officer, out of which six responded.

“They unanimously said that they were misled by the application and were unaware of the fact that their friends’ data was harvested. They also stated that they would not have used the application if they knew it would do so,” the CBI said.

“Enquiry revealed that Global Science Research Limited entered into a criminal conspiracy with CA during 2014 and the right to use the illegally harvested datasets was given to Cambridge Analytica Limited for commercial purposes,” the agency alleged.

It further said that Facebook had collected written certificates from Kogan, who represented Global science Research Limited and CA during 2016-2017, declaring that all such data obtained by them through the app “thisisyourdigitallife” was accounted for and destroyed.

“This fact confirms that GSR illegally harvested datasets and provided the same to CA for commercial purposes. However, the inquiry could not authenticate the claims of GSR and CA that datasets were destroyed,” it said.

The CBI said that it prima facie established that GSR “dishonestly and fraudulently” accessed the data of Facebook users and their friends and illegally harvested through the app in pursuance of criminal conspiracy, whereas the GSR gave the right to use the illegally harvested datasets to CA for commercial gains.

CA had earlier faced allegations that it used personal information harvested from 87 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election. (Agency)

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