Politics

I Believe Their Client Was Congress: Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower

In testimony before a British parliamentary committee, former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie stated that the controversial data mining firm had definitely carried out regional projects in India.

London: In what could be the most damning testimony against the Congress party, Cambridge Analytica’s whistleblower Christopher Wylie implicated the party as a client of the controversial data analytics firm that has allegedly manipulated elections worldwide.

“I believe their [Cambridge Analytica] client was Congress,” Christopher Wylie explicitly told the digital, culture, media and sports committee, which was taking his testimony on fake news and Cambridge Analytica’s unethical operations in the UK and across the globe.

When asked about Cambridge Analytica’s operations in India, the largest democracy with the largest number of Facebook users, Wylie, while not hesitant to name Congress, did not remember which elections it had helped out with. “But I know that they have done all kinds of projects. I don’t remember any national project but they have definitely done regional,” he told the committee and offered to provide documents on CA-India links.

Indian billionaire?

The committee was also hearing testimony by an IT expert, Paul Olivier Dehaye, who alleged that Wylie’s predecessor, who was murdered in Kenya, was working for Congress but also getting “paid by an Indian Billionaire who actually wanted Congress to lose”. This, he said, was based on media reports.

Wylie’s testimony showed how the data firm often worked with rivals. One example that Wylie gave was about Cambridge Analytica pitching to Russian oil company Lukoil while at the same time working to counter Russian propaganda in Europe. This was done in different parts of the world.

This is typical of Datavores who can sell the same data for the same event in many different ways to many different users. Wylie’s testimony, that lasted over three hours, showed that the company and its subsidiaries worked in different ways in the pursuit of power and influence. Wylie suggested that often such data companies are used to circumvent election expenditure declaration as most of these services are either deeply devalued or considered “free”.

Wylie implicated Cambridge Analytica in using data of unsuspecting citizens to influence elections in the United States and EU Referendum and told the committee that the company had worked on over “200 elections”.  He also acknowledged that India is a huge country with many different states having regional elections at different times and hinted that it was a lucrative market for the data firm. “They have offices there and they have staff there,” he told the committee about Cambridge Analytica’s presence in India.

UK had also invited Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg to give his testimony before the committee but he refused. In a letter sent this morning, Facebook informed Damian Collins, the chairman of the committee, that one of two Zuckerberg’s trusted and senior most colleagues would be sent to represent Facebook. In his testimony, Wylie suggested that Facebook was aware of Cambridge Analytica harvesting its data while Dehaye showed how Facebook’s platform supports data capitalism. Collins, at the end of the testimony today, said it was “absolutely astonishing” that Zuckerberg refused to testify himself.

On allegations that Cambridge Analytica used Indian user’s data to influence elections in India, a Facebook spokesperson told The Wire that “at this point, it’s not clear if they [Cambridge Analytica] have any data and what they have and how they’ve used it.” They also said that they are “moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of the claims”.

Political back-and-forth

Wylie’s comments set off another round of sharp back-and-forth between the Congress and BJP, which has continued on-and-off for the last few days.

In a series of tweets, IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out that “it has been established that Congress was a client of Cambridge Analytica” and that it needs to apologise to “the nation for data theft and trying to manipulate voters”.

The Congress hit back and denied that it had ever engaged with the controversial data mining firm at any point.

As The Wire and other media reports have pointed out, it is unclear at the moment whether any illegally gotten Facebook data was used by Cambridge Analytica or its Indian affiliates in any local or national election in the country.

In addition to this, Cambridge Analytica’s India partner, Ovlene Businesss Intelligence, lists both the Congress and BJP in addition to other political parties as clients.

(With inputs from The Wire Staff)