The Election Commission has quietly begun ascertaining the facts of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica case to determine if it needs to probe their alleged role in influencing the Indian electoral process.
Those familiar with the details told ET that the Commission has asked its officials to look into the details emerging from data theft revelations on Cambridge Analytica, the company with which Facebook shared its data.
This information, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has now claimed, was misused by Cambridge Analytica for political purposes. The firm advised US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and allegedly used this data to profile as well as influence potential voters.
“At this stage, we are only looking into the details. We will see what to do next only after studying what has happened,” an official told ET. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has alleged that the firm had an association with Congress, and that it was possibly used for the Gujarat elections.
Congress has denied these charges, claiming it was BJP that had links with the firm through JDU leader KC Tyagi’s son Amrish Tyagi, who was representing the firm in India. BJP is in coalition with JDU in Bihar. While no complaint has yet reached EC, the Commission is making itself aware of the details in anticipation of this matter reaching its doorstep.
This achieved more significance after Zuckerberg’s assertion that he wanted to “fix” this matter soon in the light of important elections coming up in India and Brazil. “We have a responsibility to do this, not only for the 2018 midterms in the US… but there’s a big election in India this year… and you can bet that we are really committed to doing everything that we need to make sure that the integrity of those elections on Facebook is secured,” he told CNN in an interview.
Social networks are now a critical part of the election campaigns, used actively by parties to spread their message. India has the largest user base for Facebook at 241 million users. The allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that using this database, its scientists indulged in ‘psychological profiling’ of Facebook users in order to target them with personalised advertisements.