File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )
India has set a March 31 deadline for London-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to respond to a query on whether it was engaged to improperly harvest Facebook data on Indian citizens, the information technology ministry said.
India's information technology minister last week warned against any abuse of social media in elections, following reports that the analytics firm improperly accessed information on millions of Facebook users to target US voters.
Friday's notice to the firm followed local media reports that Indian political parties had used the data analytics firm during elections.
In a notice that went out on Friday, the entity was asked to send in its response on six specific queries by March 31, failing which it may face legal action from the Ministry of Information and Technology. The questions in the notice are as follows:
1. Whether they have been engaged in any assignment to utilize data of Indians from the above-cited breach?
2. Who are the entities that have engaged them for the above?
3. How did they come to be in possession of such data?
4. Was consent taken from the individuals?
5. How was such data collected used?
6. Was there any profiling done on the basis of such data?
Earlier in the day, CERT issued an advisory asking Facebook users not to share their voting preferences on social media networking site besides following other general safeguards.
India is preparing for a general election in 2019 and several states will elect new assemblies this year and the next.
"The fairness of Indian democracy and electoral process is a matter of pride and any attempt to influence the sanctity of the electoral franchise through dubious and questionable means is unacceptable," the ministry said in a statement.
Attempts by Reuters to seek comment from the firm, via social media, went unanswered.
The government was deeply concerned with allegations that data could have been used to influence people's behaviour, the ministry said.
The ministry has threatened to take legal action against companies and individuals engaging in any unauthorized use of such data.
(With inputs from Reuters)