Any attempts by Facebook to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will not be tolerated, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Information and Technology said in a statement today.
The Minister made the remark in light of recent revelations that data from Facebook was illegally harvested by a political data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica in ways that helped manipulate votes in favour of the Donald Trump and Brexit campaign.
IT and Law Minister Prasad said the government fully supports freedom of press, speech and expression and is for exchange of ideas on social media. He, however, added that any attempts to influence the electoral process in India will not be tolerated. “If need be, strong action will be taken,” he added. Facebook is currently facing scrutiny and criticism in the US and UK after the Cambridge Analytica report came to light.
The minister also alleged the firm had links with the Congress party. “We ask Congress that how much data of Indians was shared with Cambridge Analytica’s CEO. As there are serious allegations of data theft against this company in USA, England. Company boasts of having influenced elections in Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, also in India,” he said.
According to the reports in Guardian Observer and New York Times, Facebook profiles of nearly 50 million users were illegally harvested by the political firm and helped to create algorithms and models to successfully target swing voters with false messages and political ads. The firm initially relied on a third party app ‘This is your digital life’ a quiz, which asked users some questions and then harvested the data. It has also been revealed that the firm accessed data of a user’s friends as well, for which explicit consent had not been given and was in violation of Facebook’s data policies for third-parties.
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also facing pressure to testify in front of the US Senate. The UK Parliamentary committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also wants Zuckerberg to testify in front of them regarding the issue.
It has also been revealed that in India, Cambridge Analytica worked in Bihar elections in 2010. The company’s parent organisation Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) partnered with a company called Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI). The latter is owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of the senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi and lists BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United) as its political clients.