New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi ended his silence on the Facebook data scandal, accusing the government of “inventing” the story to divert attention from the deaths of 39 Indians in Iraq. In a tweet on Thursday morning, Rahul also faulted the media for “biting the bait”.
Problem: 39 Indians dead; Govt on the mat, caught lying. Solution: Invent story on Congress & Data Theft. Result: Media networks bite bait; 39 Indians vanish from radar. Problem solved.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 22, 2018
This was Gandhi’s first reaction on the data leaks, but his party spent the better part of Wednesday firefighting allegations from the ruling BJP over private firm Cambridge Analytica. The BJP accused the Grand Old Party of "data theft" to woo voters ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress hit back, alleging that the "BJP's factory of fake news has produced one more fake product" and accused it of hiring the firm's services in several elections, including in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The trading of charges between the two parties came following the Facebook's admission last week that Cambridge Analytica used data that had been collected from 50 million users without their consent, an act of breach of privacy.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, also the Union law and information technology minister, cited several media reports which said the company would work for Rahul Gandhi ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, and asked how many times Gandhi had met Cambridge's now sacked CEO Alexander Nix.
Claiming that the illegal use of people's data from social media could turn out to be the Congress' "biggest scam", BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the government would launch a probe into the matter. "Stealing data from social media is your (Congress) weapon. Cambridge Analytica is now Congress Analytica," Patra alleged.
Rejecting the allegations categorically, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said neither his party nor its president has used and hired the services of Cambridge Analytica. "The BJP's factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears that fake press conferences, fake agendas and fake spins and fake statements have become the everyday character of the BJP and its 'lawless' Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad," he told reporters.
Claiming that Cambridge Analytica and another Indian firm OBI, run by the son of a NDA leader, complement each other's businesses, Surjewala said their achievements include managing four election campaigns successfully for the ruling BJP.
He claimed that Cambridge's local partner OBI talked of having achieved 'target 272+' (in 2014), providing constituency-wise database to BJP candidates and of extending support to it in national elections and state polls in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi.
In the midst of the data breach revelations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that his company made mistakes on user data secrecy and vowed to take steps to prevent the misuse or breach of personal data. Facebook, he said, was committed to prevent meddling in elections in India and Brazil.