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CBI books Cambridge Analytica over Facebook data theft

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against Alexander Nix of British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) and Aleksandr Kogan of Global Science Research Limited, UK, for allegedly harvesting personal data of up to 562,000 Indians from Facebook for commercial purposes, officials said on Friday
By Neeraj Chauhan
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 11:35 PM IST

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against Alexander Nix of British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) and Aleksandr Kogan of Global Science Research Limited, UK, for allegedly harvesting personal data of up to 562,000 Indians from Facebook for commercial purposes, officials said on Friday.

The move comes after a two-year-long investigation.

The CBI enquiry revealed that Kogan, founder and director of Global Science Research, created a Facebook app, “thisisyourdigitallife”; the app was authorised to collect certain specific data of the users for academic and research purposes.

The agency said that the app illegally collected additional unauthorised data of users as well as their friends’ network on Facebook; in all, data of 335 users and their network of 562,000 of their friends were compromised. Globally, it is believed that the app compromised the data of 87 million Facebook users.

Kogan has been named as accused in the CBI First Information Report (FIR) registered on January 19 and has been charged under sections of criminal conspiracy and the Information Technology Act.

Cambridge Analytica came under scrutiny sometime around March 2018 when several international media platforms, citing former CA employees, associates and documents, claimed that the company had harvested private information without their consent from the Facebook profiles of 87 million Facebook accounts.

The reports said the data may have been used to shape the outcomes of the 2016 US presidential election as well as the 2016 Brexit referendum. Last year, the UK Information Commissioner said CA was not involved in the Brexit vote.

Union law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha in 2018 that the probe will be handed over to the CBI.

The anti-corruption agency launched a preliminary enquiry (PE), a precursor to an FIR, against CA in July 2018 on a complaint by the ministry of electronics and information technology.

During the enquiry, CBI contacted 335 app users out of which six responded to the agency and were examined during the course of enquiry. “They unanimously stated that they were misled by the app and were not aware of the fact that their personal (data) and (their) friends’ data was harvested. They also said that they would not have used the app if they knew that it would do so,” the CBI FIR added. HT has reviewed a copy of the FIR.

Global Science Research, CBI said, entered into a criminal conspiracy with CA in 2014 .

“Facebook had collected written certificates from Kogan (Global Science Research) and CA during 2016-17 declaring that all such data obtained by them through the app, thisisyourdigitallife, was accounted for and destroyed. This facts confirms that Global Science harvested data sets and provided the same to CA for commercial purposes,” the CBI FIR stated.

The FIR also adds that the agency could not ascertain the veracity of claims by Global Science and CA that they had destroyed the data sets.

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