New Delhi, Aug 8: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has begun a preliminary inquiry against Cambridge Analytica for allegedly receiving data from Global Science Research (GSR) which employed “illegal means” of harvesting personal data of Indians from their Facebook account, reported officials on Wednesday. After receiving a reference from the Centre, the CBI has taken the first step towards deciding if the allegations deserve a full-blown investigation through an FIR or not, said the officials.

An earlier allegation faced by data mining and analysis firm Cambridge Analytica claimed that the company was involved in harvesting the personal data of over 87 million Facebook users in order to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election. Last month, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told the Rajya Sabha that the probe will be handed over to the CBI. He added that there were reports that user data was “illegally accessed by hardware manufacturers who had tie-ups with Facebook. In regard to this issue, Facebook has reported that they are not aware of any misuse of information, including Indian users’ information”. Facebook has over 20 crore users in India.

Mark Zuckerberg-owned Facebook suspected that the data of about 87 million people _ mostly in the US _ might have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. As soon as the data breach came to light, the IT Ministry had in March and April sought clarification on the issue from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

“Facebook responded that they will streamline their internal processes regarding the handling of personal data. They stated that the case of Cambridge Analytica was a case of breach of trust. They promised to take various other steps to ensure that such breaches do not recur,” stated Ravi Shankar Prasad. Ravi Shankar Prasad added that Cambridge Analytica, however, failed to respond to a subsequent notice.

The ministry’s move had come after Christopher Wylie, who blew the lid off the scam involving mining of Facebook user data to manipulate elections, tweeted details that claim to expose the British consultancy’s work in India dating back to 2003. Wylie claimed that SCL India (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica) was asked to provide electoral research and strategy for the 2010 Bihar elections for the Janata Dal (United). The JD(U) has rejected this claim.

(With PTI inputs)