Home Global Village East India Company 2.0: Cambridge Analytica turns towards India

East India Company 2.0: Cambridge Analytica turns towards India

Cambridge Analytica
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News Analysis |

The website of Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), the Indian affiliate of UK-based Cambridge Analytica (CA) firm at the center of the Facebook data breach row, was suspended on Wednesday night. The latest event highlights the growing footprint of the controversial firm in South Asia.

This comes amid a furious back-and-forth between the ruling BJP and the Congress accusing one another of availing the services of CA during their electoral campaigns. Cambridge Analytica, a political data-mining firm, has been accused of stealing data from 50 million Facebook users and used it to manipulate elections. Founded in 2013, the firm’s parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories tied up with Ovleno, an Indian firm, to provide services like “political campaign management”.

Before it was taken down, Ovleno’s site had a page listing the BJP, the Congress and the JD(U) among its clients. These claims by the company have not been verified, but both the BJP and Congress have strongly denied having any dealings with it.

The EIC also grew to prominence by using the policy of divide and rule to play off local rulers against each other.  This weakened the local power structure allowing the EIC to capture the whole subcontinent in the name of the British Empire.

Congress claimed that CA’s local partner OBI talked of having helped the BJP achieve ‘Mission 272’ (in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014), and also providing constituency-wise database to BJP candidates in national elections and state polls in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi.

Cambridge Analytica (CA) is in the eye of a storm after an undercover investigation caught some of its senior executives boasting about psychological manipulation, entrapment techniques and fake news campaigns in order to manipulate voters.

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Not only that, a Britain-based news agency, Channel 4, has filmed senior executives at CA, including its Chief Executive Officer 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.

Data collected by an app created by Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher at the centre of Facebook’s data breach allegations, was used to target voters in the 2016 US presidential election. The firm mined the information of about 50 million Facebook users, according to whistleblower Christopher Wylie. Now, questions are being raised whether CA has worked or was in talks with Indian political parties and whether or not it used the same techniques that it had used in other parts of the globe to help Indian parties win elections.

Ovleno’s site had a page listing the BJP, the Congress and the JD(U) among its clients. These claims by the company have not been verified, but both the BJP and Congress have strongly denied having any dealings with it.

The influence of CA in the subcontinent is feared by many to be the return of the East India Company. The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honorable East India Company (HEIC) or the British East India Company and informally as John Company, was an English and later British joint-stock company, that was formed to pursue trade with the “East Indies” (in present-day terms, Maritime Southeast Asia), but ended up trading mainly with Qing China and seizing control of large parts of the Indian subcontinent.

Data collected by an app created by Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher at the centre of Facebook’s data breach allegations, was used to target voters in the 2016 US presidential election.

CA seems to be a similar menace which has come to the subcontinent under the guise of “commerce”. But its foothold in the corridor of power in the form of a consultancy also parallels the rise of the EIC. The EIC also grew to prominence by using the policy of divide and rule to play off local rulers against each other.  This weakened the local power structure allowing the EIC to capture the whole subcontinent in the name of the British Empire.

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It seems to many that history is repeating itself, the CA is backing all the winning horses in the Indian political system while in Pakistan it is part of an unholy crusade against institutional supremacy. This reach into the local power structure by a foreign entity does not bold well for national sovereignty.


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