The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has lodged a case regarding an unlawful collection of personal information of nearly 5.62 lakh Indian Facebook users and the use of information to manipulate elections in India. In regards, CBI has booked Cambridge Analytica, the UK’s political consultancy company, and another UK- based firm Global Science Research Ltd. 

In a preliminary CBI inquiry in July 2018 following a complaint from the Electronics and Information Technology Ministry, investigative officials discovered that Aleksandr Kogan, the Founder-Director of the Global Research Limited (GSRL), created an app called ‘This Is Your Digital Life’, which was used to collect data of Facebook users under the tag “academic and research purposes”, as stated in the policy of the digital platform. Further in a probe, it was revealed that approximately 335 Indians had downloaded this app, whereby data of their Facebook friends- nearly 5.62 lakh, had been allegedly harvested without their knowledge. 

During the early investigation, Cambridge Analytica and GSRL reported criminal offenses, and the department later booked all companies for criminal conspiracy and cyber-crime. The organization Cambridge Analytica was initially accused of harvesting details of Facebook users and then manipulating it to obtain success in America, more precisely, the elections for 2016, as well as the Donald Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica first became the subject of scrutiny three years ago.

In response, Facebook replied, “Data of 5.62 lakh Indians users might have been illegally harvested.” Cambridge Analytica on the other hand responded that ”they only received data of UK users from the Global Science Private Limited.” 

According to CBI, these two companies had approached Facebook. Facebook later in conversation with CBI, told that they did allow Global Science Research ltd with their application, but they illegally collected the data of 5.62 lakhs users and later shared it with Cambridge Analytica. The data stolen contains information of the users, page likes, their private data, personal messages, and chats. Reportedly, the stolen information was later used to influence elections in India. 

Out of the 335 app users contacted by the CBI, six replied and were subsequently investigated. They all claimed that the software fooled them and that they were not aware that their personal and friends’ data had been improperly gathered, the FIR suggested, adding that all six said they would not have used the app if they had the slightest indication that their privacy would be violated. 

Both UK-based companies have been booked by CBI for criminal conspiracy and violation of the IT Acts.

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