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Government seeks Facebook’s explanation over data sharing by June 20

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The Indian government has sought an explanation from Facebook by June 20 on reports that the social networking giant shared information of its users with mobile device makers. Taking suo-motu note of reports, the IT Ministry has asked the US-based firm for a detailed factual report on the issue.

“Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sought an explanation from Facebook seeking a detailed factual report on the issue,” an official statement said.

The statement cited recent reports, which claim that Facebook has agreements that allow phone and other device manufacturers to access users’ personal information, including that of their friends, without taking their explicit consent.

“The Government of India is deeply concerned about reports of such lapses/ violations,” the statement added.

When contacted, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We remain committed to protecting people’s information. We appreciate any opportunity to answer questions the government may have.”

Facebook is already facing severe backlash globally for improperly sharing personal data of up to 87 million people with UK-based Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm, is embroiled in a scandal purportedly over its work for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and is alleged to have improperly obtained information from tens of millions of Facebook users to develop political ads.

India had, in March, issued notices to both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The social media giant had responded to that notice (over data breach) and outlined in detail the “changes made” to protect users information.

Facebook had also admitted that in the Cambridge Analytica case, 335 people in India were directly affected through an app installation, and another 5,62,120 people were potentially affected as friends of those users.

“In response to earlier notices about breaches of personal data relating to the Cambridge Analytica episode, Facebook had apologised and given strong assurances to the Government of India that they would take sincere efforts to protect the privacy of users’ data on the platform,” the statement issued today said.

It added that the recent reports “raise uncomfortable questions about the assurances made by Facebook”.

In a recent interview to PTI, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said the government will not allow “fly-by-night” data mining firms to improperly harvest social media data of Indian citizens.

He had stated that while the government is supportive of the social media, it will not allow abuse of the platform nor “irresponsible traffic in data commerce”.

India is already penning stronger data protection laws and a 10-member committee formed last year under the chairmanship of Justice B N Srikrishna (former Supreme Court judge) to give shape to the new data protection framework, is widely expected to finalise it views by next month.


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