A new investigation by Channel 4 News in Britain has revealed that Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that has been accused of harvesting personal data of over 50 million Facebook users before the American Presidential elections, may have used honey-traps and bribes as part of their methods to influence election results across the globe. During the investigation, undercover journalists posing as potential clients met and secretly recorded their conversations with the Chief Executive of the firm Alexander Nix and Managing Director of CA Political Global, Mark Turnbull, who boasted that they had successfully executed such operations across the world, and mentioned India as one of the countries where they had been active.
Channel 4 wrote in its latest story: “In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.”
Nix claimed they work under stealth in many countries by using front organisations or subcontractors to prevent their presence from being detected. The senior management of the firm also claimed to have partnerships with former intelligence officers to gather information about political opponents of their clients.
In India, SCL partners with a company named Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), which lists BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United) as its political clients on its website. OBI is owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of the senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi. Strategic Communications Laboratories Private Limited, an Indian company based out of Ghaziabad, counts both Tyagi and Nix as its directors.
When contacted, Tyagi said that queries regarding the Channel 4 News’ story should be directed to Cambridge Analytica. He said that OBI had not done any social media or digital work in India, instead it had worked with various political parties on the ground.
For the BJP Tyagi said it had done booth profiling for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2012. For the same elections, he said his organisation had done an opinion poll for a news channel. For Congress, he said he had done ground surveys for Youth Congress elections in Jharkhand in 2011 and 2012. And for his father’s party, he said he had done ground research in 2010.
Tyagi said that through their partnership with SCL, they had gained technologies to conduct ground surveys better. Regarding Channel 4’s investigations, he refused to comment, saying he has been on the move and has not had a chance to see the story. He clarified that his organisation has never been involved in any dubious work, the kind Nix and Turnbull claimed to have been involved with in multiple countries.
Last week, Cambridge Analytica had come under fire after a whistleblower revealed that with the help of an application called thisisyourdigitallife, built by a company named Global Science Research, Cambridge Analytica had gathered personal data of millions of Facebook users without authorisation. This data was then used to profile American voters and create micro-targeted and personalised political advertisements.