The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against UK-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research Limited, UK, on charges of illegally harvesting personal data of nearly 5.62 lakh Facebook India users.
In a preliminary inquiry carried out by the CBI in July 2018, following a complaint from the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, the investigating authorities had found that Aleksandr Kogan, the founder-director of Global Science Research Limited (GSRL), had developed an app called 'This Is Your Digital Life', that collected data of certain Facebook users for "academic and research purposes" as per the policy of the digital platform.
The probe also revealed that a total of 335 Indians had installed the app, whereby data of their Facebook friends -- nearly 5.62 lakh -- had been illegally harvested without their knowledge.
GSRL then collaborated with Cambridge Analytica in 2014 and authorised it to use the stolen data for commercial purposes, stated the CBI FIR.
Before the preliminary inquiry, the Ministry had sought details from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica about the privacy violations as alleged in certain media reports, the extent of data leak and potential misuse by the UK firm to influence elections in India.
In its response, Facebook, which has nearly 20 crore users in India, had admitted that data of 5.62 lakh Indians users "might have been illegally harvested". However, Cambridge Analytica, for its part, had said that they merely received data of UK Facebook users from GSRL.
Of the 335 app users that the CBI approached, six responded and were subsequently examined. They all said the app had misled them and that they were not aware of the fact that their personal as well as their friends' data had been illegally harvested, the FIR suggests, adding that all six said they wouldn't have used the app if they had the slightest idea that their privacy would be compromised.
The alleged stolen data pertains to demographic details, page likes on Facebook, contents of private messages and is believed to have been used for profiling and influencing elections in India.Both companies have been booked for criminal conspiracy and violation of the IT Act. The case has been registered under 43(a) (illegally accessing computer, computer system or computer network) read with Section 66 (computer-related offences) and 66B (punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource) of the IT Act, 2000, as well as IPC Sections 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) and 171C (undue influence at elections).