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CBI books Cambridge Analytica and GSRL for illegal data harvesting of FB users

The company then entered into a criminal conspiracy with Cambridge Analytica, allowing it to use the data harvested by it for commercial purposes, the officials said.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked Cambridge Analytica (UK) Limited and Global Science Research Limited (UK) for alleged illegal harvesting of personal data of about 5.62 lakh Indian users on Facebook through an application.

The FIR names Global Science Research Limited (GSRL), represented by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, and Cambridge Analytica, represented by Alexander Nix, as accused. It stems from a preliminary enquiry launched by the agency in July 2018, on a complaint from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) following media reports alleging the illegal harvesting of personal data.

MeitY had earlier sought details from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica about the alleged violations, the extent of leak of personal data of Indian users and its possible misuse by Cambridge Analytica for profiling and influencing elections in India. “Facebook reported that the data of potentially 5.62 lakh Indian users might have been illegally harvested,” said the FIR.

Cambridge Analytica replied that they had received data from GSRL pertaining to US citizens only. It did not respond to MeitY's further correspondences. The Ministry then sought a legal opinion, based on which it referred the matter to the CBI.

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The CBI found that Dr. Kogan, founder and director of GSRL, had created an App named “thisisyourdigitallife”. As per Facebook's platform policy, the App was authorised to collect certain specific data of users for academic and research purposes. It, however, illegally collected additional unauthorised data of users as well as their friends' network on Facebook, as alleged.

According to the FIR, the data was collected without the knowledge and consent of App users. It included demographic information, pages liked on Facebook, contents of private messages, etc. Facebook conveyed that 335 users from India had installed the App and that the data of about 5.62 lakh additional users, who were part of the friends' network of these 335 users, had also been harvested through the App without authorisation.

During the enquiry, the agency approached the 335 App users. Six of them responded and were examined. “They unanimously stated that they were misled by the App and were unaware of the fact that their personal and friends' data was harvested. They also stated that they would not have used the App if they knew it would do so,” said the FIR.

The CBI alleged that during 2014, as part of a conspiracy, GSRL gave the right of using the illegally harvested datasets to Cambridge Analytica for commercial purposes.

As it turned out, Facebook had collected written certificates from Dr. Kogan of GSRL and Cambridge Analytica during 2016-17, declaring that all such data obtained by them through the App was accounted for and destroyed. “This fact confirms that Global Science Research Limited illegally harvested datasets and provided the same to Cambridge Analytica for commercial purposes,” the agency alleged.

The enquiry could not authenticate the veracity of the claims of GSRL and Cambridge Analytica that they had destroyed the said datasets.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 7:15:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/cbi-registers-case-against-cambridge-analytica/article33632467.ece

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