India’s premier investigating agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sent letters to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica seeking further explanation on the data collection practices of the US social media giant in India. CBI had found previous responses submitted by both inadequate.
CBI had initiated a preliminary enquiry last year against Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research, the company that harvested Facebook data using a personality app under the guise of academic research and later shared the data with Cambridge Analytica. It is not known if the agency plans to launch a full-blown investigation.
Cambridge Analytica had run into legal trouble after a whistle-blower revealed the firm had influenced the 2016 US presidential election through harvesting data of 87 million Facebook accounts. The data firm later filed for bankruptcy.
Facebook has more than two billion users in India. Last July, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said CBI would probe if Cambridge Analytica violated laws to manipulate the electoral process during the 2014 national election. Prasad had earlier mentioned that user data was accessed by hardware manufacturers who had tie-ups with the American social media firm. However, Facebook had denied any knowledge of misuse of information.
This month, the Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC) wrote to Indian Parliament’s standing committee on information technology to look into the lobbying activities of social media firms in India after a Guardian report alleged a secretive global lobbying operation targeting hundreds of legislators and regulators in an attempt to procure influence across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU.
“In the past decade, many disclosures of data breach, including the Cambridge Analytica episode, have come to the knowledge of the central government. However, Facebook, Twitter, Google and all big internet and social media companies are continuing to send all data outside India. This is the root of the crisis by which social media companies are continuing to influence Indian elections for many years,” read the letter.
Facebook is facing criminal investigation in the US for the data deals it had entered into with smartphone makers and other technology giants, The New York Times reported. More than 150 companies including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Sony had entered into deals with Facebook to access personal information of its users.