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Ask Facebook to pledge not to allow meddling in our elections, Parliament panel demands

The parliamentary standing committee has asked the government to get an assurance from Facebook that it would not misuse the users' data to influence polls in India.

Ask Facebook to pledge not to allow meddling in our elections, Parliament panel demands

New Delhi: Amid concerns over serious breach of millions of Facebook users' personal data, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT) on Thursday told the government to make the social networking firm take a written pledge that it would not misuse the information it already has to influence elections in India.

The panel also asked the government to get an assurance from the Mark Zuckerberg-led firm that it would not misuse the users' data for any other extraneous purposes outside the purview of the local laws or terms of the user agreement.

The panel led by BJP MP Anurag Thakur told the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to take a pledge in writing from Facebook that it would not "misuse" the data "politically or otherwise", IANS reported.

Thakur earlier took to Twitter to inform that the panel met on Thursday to examine the issue of citizens' data security and online privacy, and also heard the views of MeitY officials in this connection.

"This is an important issue and we will hold further meetings. The citizens may email their views on the matter to the Standing Committee," he tweeted.

If sources are to be believed, the parliamentary panel also expressed concerns at the lack of adequate IT regulatory framework in the country.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee made the observation nearly a month after it came to light that British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the data of around more than 87 million Facebook users to influence elections in many countries, including the US presidential elections of 2016.

The government has issued a notice to Facebook over suspected data breach of Indian citizens and also sought details of the measures the social media giant had put in place to ensure the safety and prevention of misuse of personal data of the users. 

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg had last week admitted before the US Congress that nearly 5.62 lakh users in India were "potentially affected" by the breach. 

The demand from the parliamentary panel came two days after a former Cambridge Analytica employee claimed that the number of Facebook users whose data must have been compromised by her firm may go beyond 87 million, in a testimony before a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom.

Brittany Kaiser told the parliamentary committee on Tuesday that Cambridge Analytica had a suite of personality quizzes designed to extract personal data from the social network, according to a Guardian report.

Kaiser, testifying before the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said that Aleksandr Kogan’s 'This Is Your Digital Life' App was just one such example.

''The Kogan/GSR datasets and questionnaires were not the only Facebook-connected questionnaires and datasets which Cambridge Analytica used. I am aware in a general sense of a wide range of surveys which were done by CA or its partners, usually with a Facebook login – for example, the ‘sex compass’ quiz, '' Kaiser reportedly told the parliamentary committee.

Kaiser told the panel members that when she first joined the company, the creative and psychology teams, and data science teams, would work together to design some of these questionnaires, which were meant to extract data from the users.

Kaiser's testimony was seen as a further embarrassment for Facebook, which is embattled in a scandal over the mishandling of data of millions of its users world over.

The latest submission by Kaiser before the parliamentary panel came several days after Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer, Mike Schroepfer, wrote in a blogpost earlier this month that as many as 87 million users may have had their data stolen, higher than the previous estimate of 50 million.

Assembly elections are due this year in several crucial states in the country including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Polling is scheduled in Karnataka on May 12.

(With Agency inputs)