a) CA, Facebook & you

The world has just learned how a data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users and used that information to feed strategies such as ‘behavioural microtargeting’ and ‘psychographic messaging’ for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the U.S. Chris Wylie, a former CA employee-turned-whistle-blower, set off a storm with revelations of how the company had deployed a ‘psychological warfare’ tool for alt-right media guru Steve Bannon to try to sway the election in Mr. Trump’s favour. CA chief executive Alexander Nix, who was suspended a few days ago following an undercover report by a British TV broadcaster, said the company has used other dubious methods in projects worldwide — including honey traps to discredit clients’ opponents. The combination of using personal data without consent and tailoring slander campaigns, fake news and propaganda to discovered preferences of voters is a potent and corrosive cocktail. Facebook has said its policies in 2014, when a personality profiling app was run on its platform, permitted the developer to scrape data not only from those who downloaded the app but also from the profiles of their Facebook ‘friends’. Yet it did not make sure the data were destroyed by the app’s developer Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University academic, nor by CA itself when it came to light that Mr. Kogan had sold the data to CA, a third party. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has offered an apology and expressed willingness to cooperate with inquiries and potentially open up Facebook to regulation. This episode has brought to light several issues that need to be addressed. First, companies have been collecting data and tailoring marketing campaigns accordingly. The issue here is particularly prickly because politics and elections are involved. Second, regardless of whether what Facebook and CA did was legal or not, something is broken in a policy environment in which the data of millions are taken and used when only 270,000 people knowingly or unknowingly gave consent. Third, technology is evolving at a rapid pace, raising the question whether laws need to be reframed mandating an opt-out approach universally rather than an opt-in approach. Individuals often share their data without being aware of it or understanding the implications of privacy terms and conditions. Fourth, there must be clear laws on the ownership of data and what data need to be protected. Personal data cannot be the new oil. Individuals must own it, have a right to know what companies and governments know about them and, in most cases, that is, when there are no legitimate security or public interest reasons, have the right to have their data destroyed. The CA issue is a wake-up call for India; the government is still dragging its feet on framing a comprehensive and robust data protection law.

b) Curbing misuse: on SC ruling on the anti-atrocities law

Will laying down procedural safeguards to curb false accusations work against the interest of protecting the oppressed from discrimination and caste-based atrocities? This is the salient question that arises from the Supreme Court verdict that has taken note of the perception that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is being rampantly misused to settle personal scores and harass adversaries. On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the court’s approach. It is settled law that the mere scope for misuse of an Act is not a ground to invalidate it. Constitution courts seek to preserve the spirit of such legislation on the one hand and to evolve guidelines to prevent its misuse on the other. This is precisely what the two-judge bench has aimed to do. It has ruled that Section 18, which bars grant of anticipatory bail to anyone accused of violating its provisions, is not an absolute bar on giving advance bail to those against whom, prima facie, there is no case. In addition, the Bench has prohibited the arrest of anyone merely because of a complaint that they had committed an atrocity against a Dalit or a tribal person. In respect of public servants, no arrest should be made without the written permission of the official’s appointing authority; and for private citizens, the Senior Superintendent of Police in the district should approve the arrest. In doing this, the Supreme Court has sought to strike a balance between protecting individual liberty and preserving the spirit of a law in favour of oppressed sections. Without any doubt, atrocities against Dalits are a grim social reality, necessitating a stringent law to combat it. The Act was amended in 2015 to cover newer forms of discrimination and crimes against Dalits and tribals to add teeth to it. It is true that conviction rates under the Act remain low. The lackadaisical approach of investigators and prosecutors to bring home charges against perpetrators of such crimes among the dominant castes is reflected in statistics. Even if courts are right in taking note of the tendency to misuse this law, society and lawmakers must be justifiably worried about the sort of messaging contained in their rulings and observations. In an ideal system, as long as every charge is judicially scrutinised and every investigation or prosecution is fair and honest, one need not worry about misuse and its adverse effects. However, social realities are far from being ideal. It ought to concern us all, including the courts, that some laws designed to protect the weakest and most disempowered people do not lose their teeth. Words of caution and rules against misuse may be needed to grant relief to the innocent. But nothing should be done to de-fang the law itself.


1) Harvested

Meaning: Collect or obtain (a resource) for future use.

Example: “the research teams are leading the way in identifying new ways of harvesting the sun’s energy”

2) Whistle-blower

Meaning: A person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity.

3) Storm

Meaning: A very angry reaction from a lot of people.

Example: There was a storm of protest when the new tax was announced.

4) Psychological warfare

Meaning: The use of activities that cause fear and anxiety in the people you want to influence without hurting them physically.

Synonyms: Affecting, Influencing

5) Alt-right

Meaning: People with extreme conservative views, including extreme views about race, who reject ordinary politics and use the internet to spread their opinions. Alt-right is an abbreviation for “alternative right.

Example: The alt-right rejects mainstream conservatism, believing that it under-represents the interests of white nationalists.

Synonyms: Political movement

6) Undercover

Meaning: Involving secret work within a community or organization, especially for the purposes of police investigation or espionage.

Example: “an undercover police operation”

Synonyms: Covert, Secret

Antonyms: Open, Overt

7) Dubious

Meaning: Morally suspect.

Example: “timeshare has been brought into disrepute by dubious sales methods”

Synonyms: Suspicious, Suspect

Antonyms: Trustworthy

8) Honey traps

Meaning: A stratagem in which an attractive person entices another person into revealing information or doing something unwise.

Example: Police set up a honey trap to get him to confess to the crime.

Synonyms: Celebration, Occasion

9) Consent

Meaning: Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

Example: “no change may be made without the consent of all the partners”

Synonyms: Agreement, Assent

Antonyms: Dissent

10) Tailoring

Meaning: Make or adapt for a particular purpose or person.

Example: “arrangements can be tailored to meet individual requirements”

11) Propaganda

Meaning: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

Example: “he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda”

Synonyms: Information, Promotion

12) Potent

Meaning: Having great power, influence, or effect.

Example: “thrones were potent symbols of authority”

Synonyms: Powerful, Strong

Antonyms: Weak, Impotent

13) Corrosive

Meaning: Tending to cause corrosion.

Example: “the corrosive effects of salt water”

Synonyms: Caustic, Abrasive

14) Cocktail

Meaning: A mixture of different things, often an unexpected, dangerous, or exciting one.

Example: The inquest heard that the guitarist died from a cocktail of drink and drugs.

15) Profiling

Meaning: The recording and analysis of a person’s psychological and behavioural characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying categories of people.

Example: “we put everyone through psychometric profiling”

16) Scrape

Meaning: To not continue with a system or plan.

Example: They’re considering scrapping the tax and raising the money in other ways.

17) Prickly

Meaning: (of a subject, issue, etc.) likely to cause offence or controversy.

Example: “this is a prickly subject”

Synonyms: Problematic, Awkward

18) Opt-out

Meaning: To choose not to be part of an activity or to stop being involved in it.

Example: Employees can choose to opt out of the pension scheme.

Synonyms: Refusing, Rejecting

19) Opt-in

Meaning: To choose to be part of an activity, arrangement, etc.

Example: Company policy is to leave new workers out of the pension scheme, unless they choose to opt in.

Synonyms: Taking, Choosing

20) Implications

Meaning: A likely consequence of something.

Example: “many people are unaware of the implications of such reforms”

Synonyms: Consequence, Result

21) Legitimate

Meaning: Conforming to the law or to rules.

Example: “his claims to legitimate authority”

Synonyms: Legal, Lawful

Antonyms: Illegal, Illegitimate

22) Accusations

Meaning: A charge or claim that someone has done something illegal or wrong.

Example: “accusations of bribery”

Synonyms: Allegation, Charge

23) Salient

Meaning: Most noticeable or important.

Example: “it succinctly covered all the salient points of the case”

Synonyms: Important, Main

Antonyms: Unimportant, Inconspicuous

24) Perception

Meaning: Intuitive understanding and insight.

Example: “‘He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception”

Synonyms: Insight, Sharpness

25) Rampant(ly)

Meaning: (of something bad) getting worse quickly and in an uncontrolled way.

Example: Rampant inflation means that our wage increases soon become worth nothing.

Synonyms: Increasing, Uncontrolled

26) Harass

Meaning: To continue to annoy or upset someone over a period of time.

Example: Stop harassing me!

Synonyms: Cause feeling, Anger

27) Anticipatory

Meaning: Happening, performed, or felt in anticipation of something.

Example: “an anticipatory flash of excitement”

28) Prima facie

Meaning: Based on the first impression; accepted as correct until proved otherwise.

Example: “a prima facie case of professional misconduct”

29) Atrocity

Meaning: An extremely wicked or cruel act, typically one involving physical violence or injury.

Example: “a textbook which detailed war atrocities”

Synonyms: Horror, Obscenity

30) Liberty

Meaning: The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behaviour or political views.

Example: “compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty”

Synonyms: Independence, Freedom

Antonyms: Dependence, Subjugation

31) Oppressed

Meaning: Subject to harsh and authoritarian treatment.

Example: “oppressed racial minorities”

32) Necessitating

Meaning: Make (something) necessary as a result or consequence.

Example: “a cut which necessitated eighteen stitches”

33) Stringent

Meaning: (of regulations, requirements, or conditions) strict, precise, and exacting.

Example: “stringent guidelines on air pollution”

Synonyms: Strict, Rigid

Antonyms: Lenient, Flexible

34) Lackadaisical

Meaning: Acking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy.

Example: “a lackadaisical defence left Spurs adrift in the second half”

Synonyms: Careless, Uncaring

Antonyms:  Enthusiastic, Excited

35) Perpetrators

Meaning: A person who carries out a harmful, illegal, or immoral act.

Example: “the perpetrators of this horrific crime must be brought to justice”

36) Tendency

Meaning: An inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behaviour.

Example: “for students, there is a tendency to socialize in the evenings”

Synonyms: Propensity, Proclivity

37) Adverse

Meaning: Preventing success or development; harmful; unfavourable.

Example: “taxes are having an adverse effect on production”

Synonyms: Unfavourable, Untimely

Antonyms: Favourable, Beneficial

38) Disempowered

Meaning: Make (a person or group) less powerful or confident.

Example: “the experience of hospital invariably disempowers women”

39) Innocent

Meaning: A person involved by chance in a situation, especially a victim of crime or war.

Example: “they are prepared to kill or maim innocents in pursuit of a cause”

40) De-fang

Meaning: Make (something) harmless or ineffectual.

Example: “the president had largely defanged the opposition”


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