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Analysis, Politics

Asian nations wary after Cambridge Analytica revelations

Revelations that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to help its clients in election campaigning has Asian nations concerned.


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Updated: March 22, 2018

While the United States drags its feet on the latest revelations from Cambridge Analytica, political parties across Asia have come out to disavow any links between the data mining firm and their electoral success.

India’s main opposition Congress party said that neither the party nor party president Rahul Gandhi has ever hired the services of the beleaguered company.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had questioned links between Congress and the company following media reports about the party’s plans to use the firm’s services next year’s elections.

“Will the Congress Party now depend upon data manipulation and data theft to win elections?” Prasad said, according to the Statesman.

Prasad insinuated that Gandhi’s twitter followers were artificially boosted by the firm, a charge the Congress Party denies.

Cambridge Analytica stated on its website that it had supported Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in Kedah province resulted in the BN coalition wresting Kedah back from then opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat in 2013.

The Najib Razak administration said on Tuesday that Cambridge Analytica had not been contracted, employed or paid in any way by BN, the Prime Minister’s Office or any part of the government of Malaysia.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said any services were provided personally to former BN leader turned opposition politician Mukhriz Mahathir. A former media officer to Mr Mukhriz backed the claim.

“The 2013 election advice for Kedah was provided to Mukhriz personally,” Mr Azrin Zizal said in a statement yesterday.

Mr Azrin, the South-East Asia head of SCL group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, claimed that he had worked with Mr Mukhriz personally and provided communications and strategy advice for him until 2015, reported The Star newspaper.

Mr Mukhriz, a former menteri besar of Kedah who is now vice-president of Malay nationalist party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, denies ever working with Cambridge Analytica.

More trouble ahead; push back

Editorials in several Asian newspapers pointed to the use of Cambridge Analytica across Asia and said that the scandal wouldn’t deter the company or other similar companies from being employed in future campaigns.

An editorial in the Nation Newspaper said that “it is highly likely that Thailand will see the use of voter profiling through social media in the next general election.”

The Nation cited cyber-security researcher Bhume Bhumiratana who said that the profiling of social media users was nothing new as marketing firms have been doing it for some time.

According to Bhume, it wasn’t a stretch for marketing firms to use the data mined in previous work to target specific sections of the electorate before going to say that for many Facebook users, their data was already likely collected by various apps.

“There is a high likelihood these apps will use our personal data in the wrong way,” Bhume said.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of Thai Netizen Network, a leading non-profit campaign that advocates digital rights and liberties, said that profiling could be done easily in Thailand as the country still has no law that protects personal data in general.

However, he saw nothing wrong with political parties campaigning about what their prospective voters want to hear, unless the database is misused or illegally obtained. “There should be no problem if the parties can keep their promises,” he added.

He said he was more concerned that this issue could be used by the Election Commission or the National Broadcast and Telecommunications Commission as a reason for tighter control of social media.

In India, politicians warned social media platforms of repercussions if the platforms were used to influence the country’s electoral process through undesirable means.

Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that any attempt by social media sites, including Facebook, to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will not be tolerated, he told reporters in Parliament House complex.

“If need be, strong action will be taken,” he said.



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About the Author: ANN’s current Chairman is Mr Warren Fernandez, who is also Editor-in-Chief of The Straits Times, Singapore. He is the current President of the World Editors Forum.

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