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Facebook responds to government notice; data of 5 lakh users compromised

Info of over half a million of Indian users may have been improperly shared with the UK-based firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has admitted.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Apr 06, 2018, 06.40 AM IST
Cambridge Analytica gained 87 million users' data, 5.6 lakhs from India: Facebook
Cambridge Analytica gained 87 million users' data, 5.6 lakhs from India: Facebook
Facebook said over half a million people in India may have been affected by the illegal sharing of data mined through its platform by a Cambridge University researcher, whose application on the social network was downloaded by 335 users.

On Thursday, the American company told the Union government that “a total of 562,455 people in India” were potentially affected by the unauthorised sharing of data mined by researcher Aleksandr Kogan, with UK-based Cambridge Analytica.

The social media giant, which announced over half a dozen security features on Wednesday, said from April 9 it would provide users with a link where they can review the applications they use and the information shared. Facebook will also tell users if their information was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said his company was enhancing its security features in view of the upcoming elections in several countries including India, where it has its largest user base.


“This is going to be a big year for elections ahead with the US midterms and elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Hungary and others. This is going to be a major focus for us. We now have about 15,000 people working on security and content review and we’ll have more than 20,000 by the end of this year,” Zuckerberg told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.

Last month, the ministry of electronics and IT (MEITY) sought an explanation from both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica on whether the personal data of Indian voters and users had been compromised.

“We confirm that we have received the response from Facebook and if they are admitting that data of around 500,000 people has been compromised then we will wait for the reply of Cambridge Analytica before taking a final step in this case,” a spokesperson for MEITY told ET.

Cambridge Analytica has sought time till the end of this week to respond to the government’s notice.

Facebook in its response to the government’s notice admitted that 335 users in India had installed the personality quiz app ‘thisismydigitallife’ developed by Kogan. A total of 562,120 additional people in India were potentially affected by the data breach, as friends of people who installed the app, the social network said.

“Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of Facebook data through the app developed by Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research Limited (‘GSR’) happened without our authorisation and was an explicit violation of our Platform policies,” a representative for Facebook said in a statement.

“At no time did Facebook agree to Cambridge Analytica’s use of any Facebook user data that may have been collected by this app, including with respect to users located in India,” the spokesperson said. The social networking giant has over 241million users in India.

The notice by MEITY followed reports that Cambridge Analytica and its Indian affiliate Ovleno Business Intelligence were hired by political parties to profile voters using their Facebook data with an aim to influence the outcome of elections. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have accused each other of using the services of the British firm, which has listed the work it did in the 2010 Bihar elections as a case study.

MEITY has sought details on whether Cambridge Analytica accepted any commercial assignment to mine the data of Indian users that it had acquired from Kogan.

The Indian government in its notice to Facebook had sought specific details on how the social network intended to prevent misuse of personal data as well as prevent potential interference in, or manipulation of the Indian electoral process.

“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook’s response to the Indian government also included details of the change in privacy policies which are being implemented by the company.

Facebook announced half a dozen security measures on Wednesday which includes the promise to provide more background information regarding a publisher or an article to users to help them better determine what to read, trust and share on the News Feed.

Developers can no longer request data that people had shared with them if people haven’t used the app in three months.

After the backlash that started mid-March, Facebook said it is investigating all apps that had access to large amounts of information and will also conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity.

Facebook has admitted that globally, data on about 87 million people — against the earlier believed 50 million — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica with almost 80% of users being in the US.

The percentage of affected users in India constitutes “0.6% of the global number of potentially affected people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email statement.

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