Israel investigates Facebook over possible breach of citizens’ privacy

The social media giant is accused of being careless with personal data from tens of millions of accounts, and Israeli authorities are checking whether its citizens are among them.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israeli Privacy Protection Authority in the Justice Ministry announced Thursday that it was joining other countries around the world in investigating Facebook over its reported mishandling of users’ private information.

A database of over 50 million users was allegedly given over to a data-mining company called Cambridge Analytics by a former researcher at the University of Cambridge, Aleksander Kogan, who, according to Facebook, had developed a questionnaire app ostensibly to collect data for research purposes.

On Friday, Facebook suspended Kogan from the platform, saying he had improperly shared the information with a commercial company and lied about the purpose of his application, The Guardian reported. Kogan, however, says that after writing several academic papers, he transferred the app to a company he had founded and completely changed its terms and conditions, making it clear that users were giving it the right to sell and license the data, according to the British paper.

Kogan claimed in an email to colleagues at Cambridge that “these changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues. Facebook at no point raised any concerns at all about any of these changes.”

Cambridge Analytica was hired later by the Trump campaign as a political consultancy firm. The New York Times and The Guardian both reported that the company used the data it had obtained to target potential voters through Facebook before the US elections.

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As news of the data-mining scandal spread, politicians and federal regulators in many countries, including the United States, Great Britain and Australia as well as Israel, have begun investigations into Facebook’s allegedly overly lax security system that allowed a third party to obtain such a great deal of information so easily.

According to the Israeli Privacy Law, personal data may only be used for the purpose intended and with the consent of the individual. The Authority will therefore investigate whether personal data of Israeli citizens was illegally used in a way that infringes upon their right to privacy and the provisions of the law.

If the social media giant is found to have violated privacy laws, Israel – along with other countries, no doubt – may impose fines on the company. Facebook has already lost quite a bit of money, as investors have lowered its value by about $50 billion in the past two days alone.