Facebook has been continuously under fire from users and government agencies since former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie spilled the beans about the company’s data-harvesting scandal. Concerns have been raised over the security of the massive amounts of data available to the social media giant.
The storm hasn’t subsided even with the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issuing an ‘apology’ and listing the steps that his company would take to avoid a similar fiasco in future. In fact, a day after Zuckerberg’s first ‘damage-control’ interview with a news channel, Facebook’s shares continued to plummet in the market.
While the world is busy trying to make sense of what to do next, politicians in India are busy blaming each other for using Cambridge Analytica’s (CA) services for meddling with the elections in the country. While BJP is accusing Congress and its party president Rahul Gandhi of hiring the firm’s services ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Gandhian scion has, in turn, accused the government of fabricating his party’s link to CA to divert public attention from the death of 39 Indians in Iraq.
How does it affect India?
Amid the ongoing political drama, another whistleblower from the data-mining company’s Indian subsidiary has revealed startling facts about its operations in India.
Avneesh Rai, the co-founder of Cambridge Analytica’s Indian counterpart, has revealed how CA’s sacked CEO Alexander Nix plotted the perfect plan to defeat Congress ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
It all started in 2010 when Cambridge Analytica’s parent company (SCL) Alexander Nix and Alexander Oakes began talks with Rai and Amrish Tyagi, the son of JD (U) leader KC Tyagi – who was working with political management company Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI) – to look for prospective political clients and extend their services to Indian politics.
They registered SCL India to jointly prepare a database of Indian voters ahead of the 2014 elections. According to Rai, Nix planned on gifting a database of 5 Lok Sabha constituencies to Rahul Gandhi, ahead of the 2012 UP elections. They wanted to land a bigger contract ahead of the 2014 elections. Soon SCL India and OBI started collecting data that was based on a questionnaire prepared by SCL UK. Surprisingly, this survey had questions that were designed to hurt Congress, even though it was supposed to be pro-Congress.
The truth came to light when an Indian-origin woman who had attended a session at their office described herself as ‘from the client side’, NDTV reported. This would imply that SCL already had a client and that was working against Congress. But when Rai confronted Nix with the allegations, he refused to divulge the details. Their partnership ended soon after.
What’s the situation now?
While on one hand political parties are accusing each other of using the firm’s services during their electoral campaigns, on the other hand, the local website of CA has been taken down in India following the Facebook data-breach. No charges have been registered against the company so far.
Meanwhile, IT and Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has warned Facebook of a ‘stringent action’ should any data-breach come to light.