While the talk of data breach has made global headlines in the last three weeks, Republic World has accessed key information that unravels how British firm Cambridge Analytica accessed data of over half a million Facebook users from India.
The modus operandi involved a “research”-based mobile application and allegedly exploited the fine-print to access data of millions of Indians.
Cambridge Analytica allegedly came to possess Facebook data belonging to Indians via an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’, which was developed by a Cambridge researcher named Dr Kogan and his company GSR and offered personality quizzes, claiming to be a "research app used by psychologists".
GSR's app allegedly utilised Facebook's login service to grant user access. While seeking permissions to login via Facebook, the app allegedly requested access to data of the user as well as data of the user's friends (so long as their privacy settings allowed for this).
Upon receiving access, GSR allegedly passed on the user data to Cambridge Analytica without Facebook's permission.
Three-hundred-and-thirty-five (335) persons from India downloaded the 'thisisyourdigitallife' app between November 2013 and December 2015 at which point Facebook revoked its permissions. The number only represents 0.1% of the application’s total worldwide installs but potentially could have compromised 562,120 additional 'friends' of those users.
Earlier, a Republic World newsbreak had confirmed that Facebook's top management had responded to the Government of India's notice on the Cambridge Analytica case.
Cambridge Analytica came to be embroiled in controversy when an investigative report by the UK's Channel 4 revealed that the firm had accessed personal data of over 50 million Facebook users without taking their permission in an effort to sway the 2016 US Presidential elections in favour of the Donald Trump campaign.
A massive India angle emerged, however, when the BJP cited news reports from late 2017 that said that Cambridge Analytica would be the Congress party's 'brahmastra' (a mythical weapon) in the 2019 elections. While the Congress denied any link with Cambridge Analytica both the BJP and Congress were found to have been named as clients on the website of an India-based analytics company called OVL, which was said to have links with Cambridge Analytica. The Congress party's link to Cambridge Analytica appeared to be proven, however, when company whistleblower Christopher Wylie testified before a British Parliamentary committee naming the Congress as a “client” of Cambridge Analytica. Posters of the Congress were also spotted in visuals of now-suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix.