The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on Thursday sought an explanation from social media giant Facebook on reports of sharing user data with at least 60 different device manufacturers, including companies such as Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon and Blackberry. “The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has sought an explanation from Facebook seeking a detailed factual report on the issue,” an official statement said.
“The Government of India is deeply concerned about reports of such lapses/violations,” the statement added.
The government’s move follows a report in the New York Times which stated that Facebook had entered into data-sharing partnerships with the manufacturers over the last ten years, which later came under scrutiny due to the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with Federal Trade Commission. The report said that Facebook allowed the device makers access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.
The ministry also said that in response to earlier notices seeking details from the internet company about breach of user data in the Cambridge Analytica case, Facebook had apologised and assured that they would take sincere efforts to protect the privacy of users’ data on the platform. “However, such reports raise uncomfortable questions about the assurances made by Facebook,” the statement said.
Facebook, in response to The New York Times article, had said in a blog post: “In the early days of mobile, the demand for Facebook outpaced our ability to build versions of the product that worked on every phone or operating system. It’s hard to remember now but back then there were no app stores. So companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube had to work directly with operating system and device manufacturers to get their products into people’s hands. This took a lot of time — and Facebook was not able to get to everyone”.
“To bridge this gap, we built a set of device-integrated APIs that allowed companies to recreate Facebook-like experiences for their individual devices or operating systems. Over the last decade, around 60 companies have used them — including many household names such as Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung,” the blog post authored by Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice-president of product partnerships, said.
Facebook had admitted 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.