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Cambridge Analytica told Congress ‘Will use Facebook data to influence voters’; Party says never used services

As per a leaked 49-page 'proposal' made in August 2017, which has now also found its way to the social media, Cambridge Analytics suggested using Facebook data for "influencing the voter intention".

By: PTI | New Delhi |
April 18, 2018 6:03:20 pm
Will use Facebook data to influence voters: Cambridge Analytica told Cong; Party says never used services Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (Express Photo By Amit Mehra/File)

Months before it landed in a major data breach controversy, UK-based analytics firm Cambridge Analytica purportedly offered to spearhead Congress’ campaign for the 2019 general elections for a ‘budget’ of about Rs 2.5 crore, even as the party says it never hired such services.

As per a leaked 49-page ‘proposal’ made in August 2017, which has now also found its way to the social media, Cambridge Analytics (CA) suggested using Facebook data for “influencing the voter intention”.

When contacted, Congress’ in-charge of data analytics department, Praveen Chakravarthy, told PTI the Congress is a big national party and receives so many proposals, but it never hired the services of CA.

“There has been no relationship or understanding with Cambridge Analytica,” he said.

Asked about the document proposing the party’s strategy for the 2019 polls, he said, “I have not seen any such document and am not aware of it.”

Chakravarthy, who took over the data analytics department of the party recently, further said, “There is no reason for the Congress to obfuscate on this issue. The Congress party has never hired the services of Cambridge Analytica.”

Following allegations over the issue from the BJP, the Congress had earlier also denied hiring the services of Cambridge Analytica, which is currently in the midst of a major row over a major user data leak at Facebook including of lakhs of Indians.

The proposal was allegedly made by CA’s former CEO Alexander Nix, who was suspended after the Facebook scandal broke out last month and is facing a probe in the UK.

In the ‘proposal’ document — Data-Driven Campaign – the path to the 2019 Lok Sabha — CA had proposed a detailed strategy for the 2019 elections and the assembly polls in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The document also highlighted the key points the Congress should focus on during its campaign and gave an “indicative budget” of USD 389,460 (about Rs 2.53 crore).

The proposal said the Congress had an opportunity to synthesise the party’s liberatory grassroots heritage with a ‘refreshed and bold vision for the future’.

“It (Congress) must quickly be perceived as the anti-thesis of corruption and the embodiment of effective governance and economic emancipation. Key to this is a robust understanding of the electorate and an equally robust strategy to communicate with them in accordance with contemporary attitudes, grievances and motivations that are unique to 21st century digital data,” the proposal said.

CA further said the proposal was being made at a time when the Congress was at a major crossroads and it needs to be seen whether “it rebrands, reorganises and embraces India’s new smartphone reality immediately or it struggles to survive as one of India’s main political institutions”.

The proposal also talked about a plan to “disrupt the BJP’s current monopoly on India’s ‘smartphone voters’ by building a world-class data and digital capacity for the Congress in similar vein to what we (CA) did for the Trump campaign in 2016”.

The CA proposal included a national situational analysis, including a comprehensive review of the Congress’ communications activity, creation of a national data infrastructure project, a data-driven campaign for the 2019 elections and separately strategise the state assembly polls.

The analytics company had proposed to conduct an in-depth understanding of Indian people to know what they really think and feel, and what motivates and drives their behaviour and their propensity for change.

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