Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cambridge Analytica: A saga of manipulation of data to influence electoral mandate?

Best credited for 'helping' Donald Trump emerge the ultimate winner in 2016 US Presidential elections, British data mining and analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in its home page claims to help political parties 'find voters' and 'move them into action,' media investigations say.

'We find your voters and move them to action....By knowing your electorate better, you can achieve greater influence while lowering overall costs'-it affirms.
According to a report in the British daily, 'The Guardian': 'The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, a new investigation reveals.'

The company's home page further asserts: 'We are the global leader in data-driven campaigning with over 25 years of experience, supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents. Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections.'
The media firestorm as well as tough comments from investigating agencies and governments came after Britain's Channel 4 News on Monday filmed senior executives at Cambridge Analytica, including its CEO Alexander Nix, suggesting the firm could use sex workers, bribes and misinformation in order to try and help political candidates win votes around the world.

Channel 4 released a three-part documentary titled ‘Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks’. Nix, meanwhile, has been suspended from the company. 

The Indian narrative:

In the Indian context, IT Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad warned against the abuse of technology and cautioned that if required, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could also be summoned. 

"Mr Marc Zuckerberg you better note, if any data theft or abuse of data is done by using the Facebook system it shall not be tolerated. We have stringent powers under the Information Technology Act including summoning you in India," Mr Prasad told reporters here. 

He also linked the Indian National Congress with the imbroglio. Mr Prasad questioned whether Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi had enlisted the services of the company to boost its election campaign in Gujarat and now in Karnataka.

The Congress dismissed the charges outright.

'News about Congress engaged/engaging with Cambridge Analytica is absolutely false,' the head of the social media unit of the Congress Divya Spandana tweeted. 

Bharatiya Janata Party sources maintained that none other than Mr Rahul Gandhi announced in February first week creation of a 'Data Analytics' department at the party headquarters under the leadership of a former investment banker Praveen Chakravarty. 
BJP leaders also pointed a finger on whether Rahul Gandhi's Twitter profile was boosted by Cambridge Analytica. 

Who blew the whistle?

At the global space, all the protagonists who have come into the thick of controversy, also include an academic Aleksandr Kogan. 

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'. 

It is said data was also collected on a person's Facebook friends.

Nix in the 'documentary' released by Channel4 also said that the firm has worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to look for political issues. 

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013 initially with a focus on US elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer.

The company also boasts of helping equip clients "with the data and insights necessary to drive" voters to the polls and win. 'We offer a proven combination of predictive analytics, behavioral sciences, and data-driven ad tech,' it says.

All that has surfaced now about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica would not have been possible without the role of 'whistle blower' Christopher Wylie.

About 50 million Facebook profiles were mined for data and Kogan' company then shared this with Cambridge Analytica, which allowed the firm to build a software solution to help influence choices in elections.

The data was used to develop 'psychographic' profiles of people and deliver pro-Donald Trump material to them online. This apparently changed the entire plot of US Presidential elections.

Among others in the Kenyan propaganda campaign, Cambridge Analytica executives say they worked for the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Company operatives reportedly engineered a digital campaign that painted Mr Kenyatta in a 'positive light' while smearing his main rival Raila Odinga.


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