CBI files case against Cambridge Analytica, Global Science Research for illegal harvesting of Facebook users' data

It is alleged that GSR collected Facebook users' data for 'research and academic purposes', which it allegedly sold for commercial gains to Cambridge Analytica, a company that profiled users based on their political inclination and used it to influence polls

Press Trust of India January 22, 2021 18:48:10 IST
CBI files case against Cambridge Analytica, Global Science Research for illegal harvesting of Facebook users' data

Representational image. Reuters

After nearly 18 months of preliminary enquiry, the CBI has booked the UK-based Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research for alleged illegal harvesting of data of 5.62 lakh Indian Facebook users for profiteering and manipulating elections, officials said Friday.

The agency registered case against Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research represented by Aleksandr Kogan, both based in the UK, under Indian Penal Code section related to criminal conspiracy and Information Technology Act violations related to receiving stolen computer resource and negligence in handling personal data collected by them, they said.

Based on news reports of illegal data harvesting to manipulate elections, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had sent a complaint to the CBI on July 25, 2018 based on which the agency had registered a preliminary enquiry into the matter, they said.

It is alleged that Kogan of GSR had created an application "Thisisyourdigitallife" having permission from Facebook to collect certain categories of its users' data for "research and academic purposes".

It illegally collected additional data of not only the 335 users of the application but also of their friends' network on Facebook, the social media giant without their consent or knowledge, the FIR alleged.

The data was allegedly sold for commerical gains to Cambridge Analytica which used it for profiling users and influencing elections in India, the complaint alleged.

Although the application had 335 users in India, it was able to harvest data of 5.62 lakh Facebook members who were in their friends' network, Facebook had told the MeitY in its response.

Cambridge Analytica in its response had told the ministry that it received data of only US-based users from GSR.

The company did not respond to further queries, the complaint alleged.

During the enquiry, the CBI contacted all the 335 Indian users of the GSR's application out of which only six responded.

They all unanimously told the agency that they were not aware that their personal data and that of their friends was collected, the FIR said.

The users told the agency that they would not have used the application if they had known about collection of personal data, it said.

After nearly 18 months, the CBI enquiry has prima facie established that GSR dishonestly and fraudulently accessed and harvested data of Facebook users without their consent or knowledge of including private chats, pages visited, demographic information etc, the FIR alleged.

The agency enquiry also established that GSR illegally gave the right to Cambridge Analytica to use the data for commercial gains, it alleged.

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