Story of Cambridge Analytica

Since last few days Cambridge Analytica is dominating the news, we’ve decided to compile a list of FAQs and explaineresque content to help you to understand the whole issue.

What is Cambridge Analytica?

Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was created in 2013 as a subsidiary of its parent company SCL Group to participate in American politics.

Cambridge Analytica is a company that offers services to businesses and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”. It claims to be able to analyse huge amounts of consumer data and combine that with behavioural science to identify people who organisations can target with marketing material. It collects data from a wide range of sources, including social media platforms such as Facebook, and its own polling.

Why it is in News in India?

The international storm over Cambridge Analytica, a Facebook associate, which was involved in a breach of user information to allegedly influence polls in the US and the UK, has spilled over into the Indian political arena as a war of words between BJP and Congress continued for the second day. Even though Cambridge Analytica’s Indian partner Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi, lists BJP, Congress and JD(U) as its clients on its website, all the parties said it did not engage the data firm in elections.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the BJP launched a high-decibel war of words today over each other’s allegations about links to a disgraced data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). The British firm is accused of illegally mining the private data of Facebook users to influence the US elections. And both the BJP and the Congress accuse each other of having links with, or using the services of, the now disgraced firm.

What did they do that was so controversial?

SCL claimed to be able to do a new type of political targeting that would be based on modeling individuals’ personalities (rather than just demographic traits like age, race, or gender, as is traditional). It would do so based on survey questions that measure the Big Five or “OCEAN” personality traits commonly used in psychology research — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

Who hired Cambridge Analytica to help with Elections?

The biggest question surrounding Cambridge Analytica was just how involved they were in the last US presidential election, as well as the role it may (or may not) have played in the BREXIT vote. In addition to that, the company has also apparently had involvement in a number of other national elections, including Mexico, Brazil, India, Kenya, and Malaysia. This is far from a US-only story.

How did the data get out of Facebook?

Cambridge Analytica (CA) obtained voter data through a Facebook-linked app named ‘thisisyourdigitallife’. Through the app, CA member Aleksandr Kogan paid Facebook users in exchange for a detailed personality test, supposedly for academic research purposes.

These users volunteered to provide this information, something Facebook Deputy General Counsel was quick to emphasize in a statement:

“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

But the app also pulled personal data from all of the test-taker’s linked Facebook friends without their consent—data that, per Facebook’s Platform Policy, can only be used to enhance the in-app experience, and should not be given out to anyone.

1. Wikipedia
2. The Indian Express
3. Times of India
4. The Guardian
5. The Techradar
6. BBC News

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