India’s Congress decries BJP over Cambridge Analytica claim

New Delhi: Criticising Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for linking British consulting company Cambridge Analytica with India’s opposition Congress, the party on Thursday said it was the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which hired the services of the firm during several state legislative assembly elections.

“The services of the London-based company Cambridge Analytica have never been hired by Congress party or party chief Rahul Gandhi. It is BJP itself which used the services of the data mining firm,” Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala told media.

He termed Prasad’s remarks as desperate attempt to divert the country’s attention from other issues.

“BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears that fake press conferences, fake agendas and fake spins and fake statements have become the everyday character of BJP,” he added.

On Wednesday, Prasad had alleged that Cambridge Analytica was hired by Congress to handle the party’s 2019 general election campaign.

“Cambridge Analytica is the company that is supposed to have influenced elections in America and Kenya. We want to tell Facebook to stop this. Also Congress should come out openly and explain its link with Cambridge Analytica,” Prasad had said.

India is due to hold a national election in 2019 and several states will elect new assemblies this year and next.

“Abuse of social media including Facebook cannot be allowed to impact the fairness of elections,” Prasad told reporters.

“In the wake of recent data theft from Facebook, let my stern warning be heard across the Atlantic, far away in California. Any covert or overt attempt to misuse social media including Facebook to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be tolerated, nor be permitted.” Facebook said Prasad had raised several important questions and the company appreciates his attention to this matter.

“We will continue to engage with the government on this matter. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect peoples’ information and will take whatever steps are required that this happens,” the company said in a statement.

On Thursday, Surjewala alleged that the consulting company managed successful election campaigns for BJP in four states.

“Cambridge’s local partner OBI talked of having achieved ‘target 272+’ seats providing constituency-wise database to BJP candidates and extending support to it in national elections and state elections of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi. It is not me who is saying so; it is Cambridge Analytica which is saying so. And they have partners in India whose businesses complement each other,” he stated.

Meanwhile, it seemed that both Congress and BJP had been clients of Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), Indian affiliate of Cambridge Analytica. According to the website of Ovleno, BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United) availed its services.

Cambridge Analytica allegedly received the data from an app that purported to be a psychological research tool. The consulting company was not authorised to have such information.

Facebook has already suspended Cambridge Analytica from its platform.

— With inputs from agencies

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