The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) and Global Science Research Limited, UK, for what is sees as harvesting personal data of Indians from Facebook, officials said on 22 January.
The agency has found after two and a half years of investigation that the sinister Facebook-Cambridge Analytica coalition collected personal data of 335 users and around 5,62,000 additional users who were part of the friend’s network of these 355 users illegally.
The CBI probe unearthed the fact that the founder and director of Global Science Research, Alexandr Kogan, had created an application (app) called “thisisyourdigitallife”. Facebook authorised the app to collect certain specific data of the users for academic and research purposes ― in accordance with its convoluted platform policy.
The agency says that the app, however, illegally collected additional unauthorised data of the users as well as their friends’ network in the Facebook.
Kogan has been named as accused in the CBI First Information Report (FIR) registered on 19 January and has been charged under sections of criminal conspiracy and Information Technology Act.
CBI said that the data was collected with the knowledge and consent of users. The data collected includes demographic information, pages liked on FB, and contents of private messages etc, CBI said.
The FB conveyed that 335 users had installed the app in India. They have estimated that data of 562,000 additional users who were part of friends’ network of these 335 users has also been unauthorisedly harvested by the app, CBI said.
Cambridge Analytica 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 2018 that the probe will be handed over to the CBI.
The anti-corruption agency had launched a preliminary enquiry against CA in July 2018 on the complaint of ministry of Information Technology.
During the enquiry, CBI had contacted 335 app users out of which six responded to the agency and were examined during the course of enquiry. “They unanimously stated that they were misled by the app and were not aware of the fact that their personal and friends’ data was harvested. They also said that they would not have used the app if they knew that it would do so,” CBI FIR, reviewed by media, adds.
Global Science Research, CBI said, entered into a criminal conspiracy with CA during 2014 and right to use illegally harvested data sets was given to the latter for commercial purposes.
“Facebook had collected written certificates from Alexandr Kogan (Global Science Research) and CA during 2016-17 declaring that all such data obtained by them through the app, thisisyourdigitallife, was accounted for and destroyed. This facts confirms that Global Science harvested data sets and provided the same to CA for commercial purposes,” CBI FIR states.
However, CBI adds, enquiry could not authenticate the veracity of claim by Global Science and CA that they had destroyed the data sets.