On March 16, 2018, when Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica from accessing its services, it raised 101 questions with respect to methods employed by Cambridge Analytica to help its clients win the elections. While Facebook claimed that the Data of 2,70,000 Facebook users, while legally obtained, was unethically shared with other parties by Aleksandr Kogan, the whistleblower who had helped set-up Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, revealed that through these 2,70,000 Facebook users, Cambridge Analytica managed to breach the privacy of 50-60 Million Users.
Facebook has refused to acknowledge this breach, while the perpetrator of this crime is admitting the full extent of the damage caused by Cambridge Analytica. What Christopher Wylie claims is that through ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ application built by Aleksandr Kogan, Cambridge Analytica managed to penetrate into the private data of the friend’s network of those 270,000 Facebook users who allowed access to this application to access their FB Data. This friends’ network of these 270,000 Facebook users reached a number upwards of 50-60mn users.
Interestingly, it was reported early on that the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi are in talks with Cambridge Analytica for 2019 elections. Now, with the reports on unethical practices of the firm surfacing, it becomes necessary to analyse their methods keeping Indian elections and the Congress party in mind, even though the Congress party or Rahul Gandhi never confirmed or denied these news reports, especially, in the face of how his Twitter resurgence was tomtomed by the media.
Questionable methods of Cambridge Analytica
Sharing the details of Cambridge Analytica’s style of functioning, Christopher Wylie says, “We spent a million dollars in harvesting 10s of millions of Facebook profiles and those profiles were used as the basis of the algorithms that became the foundation of Cambridge Analytica. The company itself was founded on the use of Facebook Data.”
The extent of the breach was the status messages, likes and their private messages
When asked what Cambridge Analytica was trying to do with so much data, Wylie explained the questionable methods of Cambridge Analytica, saying “We were going to combine micro-targeting, which was already existing in politics, and a new construct on psychology. And in order to scale that we’d be needing a lot of data on people, so that we could build a psychological profile of each voter in a particular region or in this case whole of United States”
He further adds, “We would know what kind of messaging you would be susceptible to, including the framing of it, the topics, the content, the tone, whether it would be scary or not. So, what you’d be susceptible to and where you are going to consume that and how many times we need to touch you with that in order to change how you think about something.”
Expanding further on the kind of team employed and the process followed at Cambridge Analytica, Wylie says, “In addition to having data scientists and psychologists, strategists, they also have an entire team of creatives, designers, videographers, photographers. They then create that content. That gets then sent to the targeting team, which then injects it into the internet. Websites would be created, blogs would be created, whatever we think this target profile would be receptive to. We will create content on the internet for them to find. And they see that and they click it and they go down the ‘rabbit hole’ until they start to think something differently.”
In effect, if reports of Congress and Rahul Gandhi hiring Cambridge Analytica is true, they will be doing something on the lines of what Wylie says these politicians are doing to destroy a democracy, “Instead of standing in the public square and saying what you think and then letting people come and listen to you and have that shared experiences to what you are, you are whispering into the ear of each and every voter and you may be whispering one thing to one voter and another thing to another voter. We risk fragmenting society in a way where we do not have any shared experiences and we do not have any more shared understanding.”
Rahul Gandhi’s Insensitive alleged Electoral Advisor
When asked if users whose data had been picked up had any idea about it, Wylie confirmed that the users had no idea. When asked he and Cambridge Analytica had any reservations about breaching the privacy of so many Americans, the answer was, “We were solely focused on getting this data and doing this ‘experiment’.” This is the insensitive outlook of Rahul Gandhi’s Electoral Advisors, Cambridge Analytica when they describe the data breach and psychological profiling of Voters as a mere ‘experiment’.
What does this mean for Indian Voters?
Breaching data privacy to build a psychological profile of voters in each of 543 Lok Sabha Constituencies will be the very first task Cambridge Analytica would have done, as per their own process, after allegedly receiving a mandate from Congress Party.
In other words, data of 250mn Indians on Facebook must have been breached by now, and Facebook may not even admit that, as they have not admitted so in case of US. What we know today is all thanks to the whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who was deeply involved with these operations of Cambridge Analytica. Let us be clear, as Wylie has explained earlier, Cambridge Analytica was founded on Facebook Data. If they have started operations for Congress Party in India, by now, Indian Voters data and privacy has already been breached.
Trump Campaign paid $15mn through Robert Mercer to get Cambridge Analytica to work on US Elections. They had to basically sell one single candidate to, say 200 million registered Voters in the US.
India is a far more complex game. They have to psychologically manipulate approximately 900 million voters in India and sell them 543 Candidates from Congress Party in India with Rahul Gandhi as their Pan India leader gunning for Prime Minister-ship.
Considering their tremendous success in US Elections, hence a certain premium to their brand, the complexity of the operation in India and selling a hugely unpopular and ridiculed politician like Rahul Gandhi, I suppose Cambridge Analytica might have charged anything in the range of $75-$100 million. That’s equal to nearly Rs. 500-650 crores. Of course, this is just a guesstimate.
The source of such funds, the method of such payments, is a subject of speculation. But more than that Indian voters are about to be psychologically manipulated by a Foreign Agency who may be catering to the interest of an enemy nation, and that is far more disturbing.
Interestingly, the whistleblower has mentioned how one of the prime methods of Cambridge Analytics is to whisper one thing in one section of voter’s ear, while the complete opposite in another section’s ear. This deception is not far from the Congress’ modus operandi. It stands to reason that perhaps the messaging to the Kannada’s would be how North Indian’s are living off south taxes, as the Congress party has already done, and tell the North Indian’s that the Kannada Vijay Mallya stole the North’s money and ran away. While peddling soft Hindutva for one section, Congress has been stirring the Lingayat separate religion pot and divide the Hindus on the basis of caste. While on one hand, Congress wants to appease the majority, on the other, Congress beats the ‘Hindu terror’ drum and appeases the minority. It thus stands to reason that Cambridge Analytica, if hired by the Congress would pander to exactly what the Congress has been doing to dirty domestic politics, their messages, however, would be far more effective.
We have already seen that in November 2015, Congress Leader Manishankar Aiyar was seen on television requesting Pakistan for help on removal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Simply put, it seemed like he was requesting Pakistan to use its intelligence agency ISI to conduct clandestine operations in India for “removal” of Indian Prime Minister in order to undermine India’s Democratic Process.
This disdain for Indian voters in the Congress has been marked previously too. But leaving that for another day, Congress’ hiring of Cambridge Analytica has created a definite cause of worry for Indian Voters.
With such dangerous practices being reported, it becomes necessary for the Congress party to either come out in the open and confirm that Cambridge Analytica was never hired by the party and the reports were untrue, or confirm that the firm was indeed hired and be answerable to the people of the nation, if at all our data has been breached.