Cambridge Analytica scandal triggers BJP-Congress war of words

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Amid probe by U.S. privacy watchdog and British lawmakers over a potential breach of user confidentiality by Facebook, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Indian government fully supports freedom of press, speech and expression and is all for free exchange of ideas on social media.

It accused the party of availing the services of the tainted data analytics firm in the 2014 general elections, followed by a spree of assembly elections held thereafter.

Alleging that CA had been found using illegal means of data manipulation to subvert the democratic process in Kenya, Prasad said that the Congress had been aligning with such forces to divide the society to win elections.

What could be the magnitude of the data theft in India?

Mr Prasad also warned social media platforms like Facebook of stringent action if any attempt was made by them to influence the country's electoral process through "undesirable means".

"Database to be provided constituency wise to BJP candidate as an additional support for national elections and state elections of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi". "You hid the information and now you're trying to divert attention from the issue by making outrageous allegations against the Congress party.", she further tweeted.

The ET report titled "This is the Brahmastra Rahul Gandhi will hurl at PM Modi" was suggestive of the fact that the newspaper had obtained clinching evidence in support of its claim.

While the sensational Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal continues to unfold in the U.S. and United Kingdom attracting global outrage, in India it has triggered a massive political slugfest between the Centre's ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala rubbished Prasad's allegations, saying neither the Congress nor its president Rahul Gandhi used CA's services.

"Abuse of social media including Facebook can not be allowed to impact the fairness of elections".

Quick to dismiss Prasad's charges, the Congress went on the offensive and questioned the BJP's links with CA.

"How much data of the Indian users has the Congress handed over to the company?" the Union minister asked.

Prasad accused the Congress party of sharing the private data of Indian citizens with CA.

Prasad said the government was in touch with the US Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to assess the privacy violations of Indian users. Firm's Indian partner Ovlene Business Intelligence (OBI) is being run by BJP ally's MP's son. "There was nothing till now, but today when Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad has raised the point, some kind of white washing is being attempted", added Poonawalla.

"Will the Congress now depend on data manipulation and theft to woo voters?"

Kogan's company named Global Science Research "created" an app called "thisisyourdigitallife" in 2014 and the net users were tricked and even paid to take a psychological test and the "app collected the data".

"Congress or the Congress president has never used or ever hired the services of the said firm". The website then states that '90% seats targetted by Cambridge Analytica being won.' The BJP-JDU combine were the winners in the 2010 elections raising questions if the saffron party had hired a company which operates in stealing an individual's personal data from social media platform. The report added that CA and OBI had together pitched their services to both the Congress and the BJP for 2019 but that talks were in a preliminary stage.

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