IT Minister Prasad Warns Action Against Facebook If The Company Influences Indian Elections
March 22nd, 2018
On Wednesday, 21 March, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad issued a warning to the social media platform Facebook of influencing the country’s electoral process through “undesirable means”, stating that strict action would be taken.
Prasad said that any attempt made by Facebook or its associates “to covertly or overtly influence free and fair elections through means that are undesirable” will “neither be appreciated nor permitted”, and would attract charges under the IT Act, according to The Indian Express.
Speaking to the press outside the Parliament, Prasad accused the Congress of having links with Cambridge Analytica, the Facebook associate under the scanner.
Warning the tech giant and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, Prasad further told the press, “Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT Minister of India. We welcome Facebook in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of Facebook’s system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you to India.”
The Cambridge Analytica Case
Cambridge Analytica is a British company which was established in 2015. Reportedly, they fetched the information of 50 million Facebook users without their permission.
An explosive sting operation carried out by Britain’s Channel 4 revealed its CEO Alexander Nix suggesting that the firm could use sex workers, bribes and misinformation to try and help political candidates win votes around the world.
How Was The Data Mined?
The company accessed the Facebook data of millions of users through an application developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the Cambridge University. The app titled, ‘this is your digital life’ was downloaded by around 27,000 people via Facebook, according to The Indian Express. After this, Klogan gathered the data of these people and their friends, like their city of residence, without their consent and passed it onto Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica boasts that it gathered data from Facebook which helped it develop psychological profiles of users and votes which were subsequently used to influence them. This reportedly had a more significant impact on voters than on traditional advertising.
The company was inculpated because of the way the harvested data might have been used. According to an article by CNBC, it was used to direct messages for political campaigns supported by Cambridge Analytica, most notably, Trump’s election victory and the Brexit vote.
Facebook faced immense heat from the authorities after following Channel 4’s expose. It drew criticism for failing to protect user privacy and this controversy also resulted in a 17% decline in Facebook Inc.’s shares.
According to the statement issued by Facebook, “The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”