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Centre Says Cambridge Analytica May Have Harvested Data of Indians, Orders CBI Probe

Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of controversy in the United States and Britain after two newspapers reported that the company harvested personal data about Facebook users beginning in 2014.

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Updated:July 26, 2018, 6:34 PM IST
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Centre Says Cambridge Analytica May Have Harvested Data of Indians, Orders CBI Probe
File photo of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
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New Delhi: In an attention calling discussion in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, minister for electronics and information technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, informed the House that the Centre has ordered a CBI probe into the Cambridge Analytica data breach case over doubts of illegally obtaining data of Indians.

“The government had asked for a reply from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica after the case of data breach emerged. Facebook had come up with rectification measures however, CA had initially said no Indian data was breached. On our subsequent enquiry, they have not given a satisfactory reply. This makes us doubt that they may have been involved in illegally obtaining data of Indians. We have handed the case to CBI,” said Prasad.

British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of controversy in the United States and Britain after two newspapers reported that the company harvested personal data about Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Best known for assisting the 2016 presidential campaign of US President Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica faced a government search of its London office, questions from US state authorities, and a demand by Facebook that it submit to a forensic audit.

Facebook, on the other hand, had in April admitted that nearly 5.62 lakh people in India were "potentially affected" by its global data breach involving Cambridge Analytica, and asserted that the UK-based firm's use of such data did not have its consent.

In response to the Indian government on the scandal, Facebook had informed that "only 335 people" in India were directly affected through the installation of an application and another 5,62,120 people were "potentially affected" as friends of those users. Facebook has over 20 crore users in India.

The IT minister also informed that popular messaging app, Whatsapp, also an arm of Facebook, has been asked to come up with better technical solution obligatory to law enforcement bodies in order to protect users from being fooled by false messages.

BJP’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, Prasad also informed the house about the measures the Centre is planning to take to curb the spread of fake news leading to lynchings and other hate crimes.

The measures include mandating of the IT Act, 2000, for all social media platforms. The firms also have to make sure that all messages are traceable and the source of origin can easily be identified by law enforcement agency or public authority.

All social media firms will also have to locate their grievance officers in India who can act as point of contact for all communication with regards such complaints.

After the speech, the floor was open to questions and Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien alleged that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was formed using digital media and that the ruling party is creating digital mobs and conditioning minds.

“Creating false news is a matter of hobby for this government. They formed the government using digital media and are now creating digital mobs,” said Brien.

The West Bengal leader also raised questions over ideological links between BJP and the notorious news website Postcard News, recently made to stop business over claims of spreading fake news.

O’Brien also questioned the involvement of I P Patel in BJP’s social media meet held last week. I P Patel, associated with BJP, has repeatedly been brought to light over his Twitter handle spewing hate.
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