Asia-Pacific News

Cambridge Analytica must answer to India or 'face the consequences,' lawmaker says

Key Points
  • India's IT minister has challenged Cambridge Analytica, a now-closed political consultancy, to clarify its operations the country.
  • "Come on board or face the consequences," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, who serves as India's minister for both Information Technology and Law and Justice.
  • Earlier this year it emerged that Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook users' data without consent to influence elections.
Chesnot | Getty Images

The Indian government has issued a stern warning to Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political consultancy, over its operations in the country.

The embattled former firm had “better come on board or face the consequences,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for its Information Technology and Law and Justice departments, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the U.K. government during a testimony in March that the firm had “worked extensively in India” and had an office in the country. Wylie later tweeted further information about his claim.

The company’s troubles began earlier that month after a report on the U.K.’s Channel 4 News showed its executives revealing to undercover journalists the extent of its work on political campaigns across the world. This involved bribes, sex workers and the spreading of misinformation, as well as the unsolicited analysis of data belonging to 87 million Facebook users, gathered via a third party app.

UK lawmakers and whistleblower Wylie discuss Cambridge Analytica's operations in Kenya

Following the revelations, the Indian government set Cambridge Analytica two successive deadlines by which it was to clarify its work in the country. The former firm's management is yet to respond, though it has denied wrongdoing in the case more broadly.

“We have sent two notices to Cambridge Analytica, we are awaiting their second response,” Prasad said. He added that he had as yet unsuccessfully tried to track down the company’s leadership in the London.

Prasad said that Facebook had apologized to him over the scandal. “The minions are coming after the main player now,” he added.

Prasad’s comments come as the U.K. government on Wednesday announced a £500 million ($660 million) fine for Facebook over the improper management of its user data, the maximum levy it can enforce.

India, home to 1.3 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy. It is also Facebook’s largest market, with 270 million users as of April 2018 according to consultancy We Are Social and analysis platform Hootsuite.

Expect FTC to fine Facebook $5B, predicts Height Analytics senior analyst

At the moment, the Indian government is not fully aware of Cambridge Analytica’s work in the country. Prasad said that it had not collaborated with his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“All their linkages will be known only when they come and disclose,” he said.

Back in March, Wylie told U.K. lawmakers during his testimony that he believed that India's main opposition party, Indian National Congress, had been Cambridge Analytica's client. Congress has denied the connection, according to local news reports.

“We value our electoral process very, very seriously,” Prasad said. “We are all for freedom on social media; we are all for campaigning on social media — but if anyone seeks to influence voting behavior through abuse of this data, that is plainly not acceptable.

“India is a robust democracy, any issues of data will not be tolerated.”

Prasad was in London earlier this week and spoke to the Indian Professionals Forum think tank about India's digitization plans, which are estimated to add $154 billion to the country’s gross domestic product by 2021.