Cambridge Analytica global data scam reaches doors of Congress
As the Congress and BJP up their social media strategy ahead of the 2019 parliamentary polls, the parties on Wednesday traded charges over using the services of data consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica that is at the centre of serious charges of illegally mining personal data from Facebook across countries.
The BJP alleged that the Congress had roped in CA to bump up its new party chief Rahul Gandhi's social media profile and run its 2019 poll campaign.
Union minister for information technology and law Ravi Shankar Prasad in a press conference on Wednesday said, "My question to the Congress party is to win elections, will the Congress depend on data theft and manipulation? What is the role of Cambridge Analytica in social media profile of Rahul Gandhi?"
The consultancy that did digital work for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign has been caught in a media firestorm after undercover sting operations caught senior executives boasting about fake news promotions, psychological manipulation and entrapment techniques.
Citing reports, Prasad alleged that the Congress had hired the services of the agency to run its 2019 poll campaign and asked the party to explain how much data it had traded with Cambridge Analytica during the recent Gujarat and Northeast assembly elections as well as the upcoming polls in Karnataka.
In the backdrop of probes by British lawmakers and the US privacy watchdog Federal Trade Commission, Prasad warned Facebook of "stringent action" if it is found guilty of breaching user confidentiality.
"Let me make it very, very clear, we fully support freedom of press, speech and expression we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated. If need be, stringent action will be taken," Prasad said.
The minister added that 20 crore Indians use Facebook, making it the company's largest market outside the US.
Responding to Prasad's allegations, Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala said, "The BJP's factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears that fake press conferences, fake agenda and fake spins and fake statements have become the everyday character of BJP and its 'lawless' minister of law Ravi Shankar Prasad. The services of this company (CA) have never been hired by Congress party or Rahul Gandhi."
Making counter-allegations on the BJP, Surjewala said the party had hired the services of CA during the Bihar assembly polls and also for its Mission 272 plus campaign in 2014.
"The company's website claims that it ran a research and communication campaign and was contacted to undertake an in-depth electorate analysis for the Bihar assembly elections in 2010. Cambridge Analytica and another Indian firm Ovelina Business Intelligence (OBI), run by the son of a prominent NDA leader from Bihar, complemented each other's businesses," Surjewala alleged.
"The company claims that one of their achievements include managing four successful election campaigns for the ruling BJP and OBI has mentioned having achieved the target of 272 plus, providing constituency-wise database to BJP candidates and extending support to it in national elections and state elections of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi. It is not me who is saying so, it is Cambridge Analytica which is saying so. And they have partners in India whose businesses complement each other."