SA Facebook users exposed
MORE than 59 000 South African Facebook users may have had their information exposed to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica without their consent in a worldwide data breach scandal involving the social media platform.
The scandal broke after the US media reported that a personality application, This Is Your Digital Life, developed by a Cambridge University researcher with interest in cognitive and behavioural neuroscience, Aleksandr Kogan, had surfaced.
Kogan allegedly passed the information unwittingly submitted by Facebook users who downloaded the app to Cambridge Analytica.
It, in turn, apparently used it to influence the behaviour of American voters in the build-up to presidential elections in that country, among other things.
Responding to Weekend Argus questions about the data breach, Facebook, which asked that no spokesperson’s name be used, said 33 South African users had downloaded the application and “59 777 users were potentially impacted in South Africa (these being friends of those who would have installed the app elsewhere in the world)”.
This week, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was grilled by the US Congress in Washington over the company’s business model and the breach of trust which saw the information of about 87 million users affected worldwide.
Facebook has 19 million monthly active users in South Africa, according to the social media giant.
The chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa, Pansy Tlakula, said the organisation had written to Facebook demanding answers about how the breach might have occurred and what measures were put in place to prevent further compromise.
Tlakula said according to the Protection of Personal Information Act,
some of whose sections are not in effect yet.
“Facebook must put in place measures to secure the integrity and confidentiality of personal information in its possession or under its control,” Tlakula said.
Unfortunately for users in South Africa, “Facebook will only submit to the courts in America or Ireland, where its international headquarters are located,” said Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti, a partner in the dispute resolution department of Webber Wentzel and a media law specialist.
She said once the Protection of Personal Information Act had come fully into effect, it would give South Africans more protection.
But social media users needed to be more cautious about their activity online, Ampofo-Anti warned.
“Users need to be aware that every time they use third-party applications on Facebook, like games or quizzes, the app usually asks for permission to access information provided to Facebook, for example your birthday and location data.
“Many users don’t realise that they have given third-party apps permission to access their data,” she added.
Tlakula said anyone affected could lay a complaint with the regulator at www.inforeg.gov.za