SA Face­book users ex­posed

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - NOLOYISO MTEMBU

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

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