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Govt sends additional letter to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook regarding data of Indians

Using a stern tone, the government said that Cambridge Analytica’s response was “self evident that apart from being very cryptic, the unstated intention was to conceal more than reveal".

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: April 26, 2018 3:16:10 am
Another letter sent to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook regarding data of Indians: MeitY The government emphasised “again” that “any data concerning Indians is required to be given due sanctity and any manipulation, without consent/ authorisation, would entail consequences”.

Unhappy with the Cambridge Analytica’s response received on April 3, regarding the data of Indians gathered by the international data mining and analysis firm, the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Wednesday sent another letter to Cambridge Analytica asking for additional details. In the letter, the government has asked the data analytics firm, which was also reportedly involved in electoral campaigns of leaders across the globe to give “due sanctity” to the data of Indians.

Using a stern tone, it said that Cambridge Analytica’s response was “self evident that apart from being very cryptic, the unstated intention was to conceal more than reveal”. The government added that India “being the front lane of democratic countries as an effective and largest functioning democracy” the data analytics firm should have handled “the serious and sensitive issue relating to data encompassing its management, safety and its possible abuse to influence voting behaviour” more carefully.

The government emphasised “again” that “any data concerning Indians is required to be given due sanctity and any manipulation, without consent/ authorisation, would entail consequences”. It stressed that “the sanctity of our electoral process” is held with great respect in the country.

In its response to the notice, Cambridge Analytica, according to the government’s letter had said that it “does not have any Facebook data of lndian citizens”, along with its affiliates Cambridge Analytica “have worked on a range of projects in India over the past 10 years” and have collected data “from first party research instruments/opinion surveys”. The data analytics firm had also said that it has “never done any psychographic profiling in India” and refused the “reveal details of your associates/clients without their explicit permission,” the government’s letter said.

Two days after the government received Cambridge Analytica’s response, Facebook told the Indian government that data of 562,455 Indians may have been accessed by the data analytics firm through 335 Indians who have installed the Global Science Research’s application which had been used by Cambridge Ananlytica to collect data. In its response to the Indian government Facebook had said that: “Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of Facebook data through the app developed by Dr. Aleksander Kogan and his company… GSR happened without our authorisation and was an explicit violation of our Platform policies.”

“Such serious admissions made by the CEO of Facebook in important proceedings having their own sanctity cannot be wished away by Cambridge Analytica in such a cryptic and evasive manner,” the government wrote on Wednesday. Also, it said, “in view of the acknowledgement by Facebook and after their public apology, the onus on Cambridge Analytica has become further heavier. This is required to be discharged properly, fairly and to the adequate satisfaction of the authorities in India.”

The government has asked the data analytics firm questions about the kind of data collected on Indians, research instruments used on the data, whether Cambridge Analytica has collected data through third party apps and if it possesses any Facebook data, and if informed consent had been taken while harvesting such data. Additionally, the government wants to know if the data analytics firm or any of its affiliates used any data collected by them for any election-related work and its details; details of the entities operating under Cambridge Analytica “including their constitution and the names and contact details” of their directors; and whether any Facebook of Indians data was ever accessed by or offered to Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL Group’s former employee-turned-whistleblower Christopher Wylie had told the British Parliament in late March that Cambridge Analytica had worked with Congress in India. He also released documents on Twitter the next day which shows that SCL Group had offices in India and had worked with the Janata Dal (United) in 2010 Bihar elections.

The documents released by Wylie also stated that the address of SCL Group’s head office in India was “155, Niti Khand 1, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad, which was the same as the official address of Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI) on its website before it was taken down. OBI, SCL’s partner in India is owned by Amrish Tyagi, the son of senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi. OBI counted BJP, Congress and JD(U) among its clients on its website. Amrish is also one of the four directors of another Ghaziabad-based company named Strategic Communication Laboratories Private Limited, which has Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO Alexander Nix as its director

The government in its Wednesday’s letter also stated that it was “all the more important in view of the public comment” made by Nix to the effect that CA has used unethical and non-transparent practices to influence voting, referring to a report by Channel 4 News in England, in which Nix and other senior officials of SCL Group were seen boasting how they had used techniques like honey-traps and bribing against their clients’ rivals in different countries across the world.

On Wednesday, the government also wrote to Facebook asking it about the proposed “security architecture” it will create “on an urgent basis, so that the data concerning Indians are not pilfered or manipulated again for extraneous purposes including to influence the elections” since Facebook has “solemnly pledged to maintain the integrity of India’s elections”. Facebook was also asked if any “unauthorised use of data or manipulation is known” what steps would the social media giant take to “stall it immediately”.

Both, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been given time till May 10 to send their detailed responses.

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