5.62 lakh Indian users affected from data breach: Facebook reply to govt notice

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Responding to a notice last month from the Centre, asking Facebook whether personal information of any Indians was stolen as part of its global data breach involving UK data firm Cambridge Analytica, the US-based social media company on Thursday admitted that about 5.62 lakh users in India were “potentially affected”. This is the first time Facebook has put a number to the impact of the said breach in India.

However, this number is restricted to impact on basis of a single app — “mydigitallife” — which Facebook investigated and found that 335 Indians had installed. An additional 5,62,120 people were affected as friends of the people who installed the app, Facebook said.

A senior IT ministry official confirmed receipt of Facebook’s response but said that the government will take a final stand on the issue once Cambridge Analytica also responds to a notice it was sent. Late last month, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology issued separate notices to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica seeking details about impact of the data breach in India and whether the data was used to manipulate 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. Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of Facebook data through the app developed by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research Limited happened without our authorization and was an explicit violation of our Platform policies. 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,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We are investigating the specific number of people whose information was accessed by the app, including those in India. The numbers that we have now are that only 335 people in India installed the App, which is 0.1 per cent of the app’s total worldwide installs. We further understand that 562,120 additional people in India were potentially affected, as friends of people who installed the app. This yields a total of 562,455 potentially affected people in India, which is 0.6 per cent of the global number of potentially affected people,” the spokesperson added.

Facebook’s response to the Indian government has come less than a day after it said data of about 87 million people — mostly in the US — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. This is a revision from 50 million people estimated earlier.

Facebook has also said that it will show people a link at the top of their News Feed so they can see what apps they use and the information they have shared with those apps.

It will also tell people if their information may have been improperly shared with the Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and analytics firm. Cambridge Analytica has been accused of harvesting personal information of over millions of Facebook users illegally to influence polls in several countries.