The CBI has written to British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Global Science Research (GSR) seeking details regarding alleged theft of social media data of Indian Facebook users.
The agency has made the communication in connection with its preliminary enquiry (PE) into the issue initiated last month.
The CBI is probing whether Cambridge Analytica allegedly received data from Global Science Research, which employed “illegal means” of personal data harvesting of Indians using Facebook. “We have written to three firms separately to seek details regarding the allegations. Further investigation will take place after we receive a reply,” a CBI official said.
Preliminary enquiry, the first step for any probe before an FIR is registered, has been initiated after receiving a reference in this regard from the Centre.
Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and analysis firm, 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.
Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Rajya Sabha in July that the probe would be handed over to the CBI. He had said there were also reports that user data was “illegally accessed by hardware manufacturers who had tie-ups with Facebook. In regard to this issue, Facebook has reported that they are not aware of any misuse of information, including Indian users’ information”.
Facebook has more than 20 crore users in India. The company has said that data of about 87 million people — mostly in the US — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
After the data breach came to light, the IT Ministry, in March and April, had sent communications to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica seeking clarification.
“Facebook responded that they will streamline their processes regarding personal data. They stated that the case of Cambridge Analytica was a case of breach of trust…” Prasad had said. The minister also said that Cambridge Analytica gave an initial response that data of Indians was not breached but this was not in conformity with what Facebook reported. Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a subsequent notice.