Was personal info of Israeli users illegally utilized?

Israel to probe Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data breach

Investigation comes following mass leak of social media giant’s data on 50 million users, which was used to aid Trump campaign in 2016 race

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc. (AFP Photo/Getty Images North America)
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc. (AFP Photo/Getty Images North America)

Israel’s Justice Ministry informed Facebook that it is opening an “administrative investigation” into the social media giant following reports of the transfer of personal information from Facebook to data-mining firm Cambridge Analytics, “and the possibility of additional violations of Israelis’ personal information,” the ministry said Thursday.

Cambridge Analytica been under fire since The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper reported that it used data inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to influence elections, including the 2016 US presidential election. Among that information were users’ likes and friend connections on the network.

Additionally, a report by UK’s Channel 4 revealed hidden camera footage in which Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix describes using Israeli private companies’ “intelligence gathering” methods to get information about voters.

“According to [Israeli] privacy laws, personal information may only be used for the purpose for which it was handed over, and may be transferred to another party only if consent has been given,” a statement from the Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority (PPA) statement said Thursday.

Under Israeli law, protected personal data includes any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life. It includes names, photos, email addresses, bank details, posts on social network websites, medical information, or even computers’ IP addresses.

“The PPA will therefore investigate whether the personal information of Israeli users has been illegally used in a manner that violates their right to privacy and violates the laws of privacy protection in Israel,” the statement added.

Wednesday, breaking five days of silence as the revelations broke in media outlets worldwide, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps the company would take to protect user data.

Reached by The Times of Israel, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said the probe was not currently being treated as a criminal investigation, but said it may become one “at a later date.”

The scandal erupted when a whistleblower revealed the British data consultant had created psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users via a personality prediction app.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to “step up” to fix problems at his company as it fights a snowballing scandal.

Britain’s culture secretary said Thursday that Zuckerberg’s promises to change the social media giant in the aftermath of the privacy debacle don’t go far enough.

Zuckerberg has apologized for weaknesses in the social network’s policies that enabled an app to gain access to the personal information of 50 million users without their consent. He outlined steps to protect user data and said companies have a responsibility to act.

But British Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said Thursday that Parliament and society should set the rules as to what is appropriate for privacy and innovation — not any one company.

Hancock said “that’s the approach that we are taking. The big tech companies need to abide by the law and we are strengthening the law.”

Also Thursday, Germany’s justice minister said she was calling in Facebook’s European leadership to explain the scandal and detail whether German users’ data was affected.

Katarina Barley said she has invited Facebook officials to a meeting at her ministry next week, though the exact date has yet to be determined.

Barley, who is also responsible for consumer protection, said she wants “comprehensive information” from Facebook, including on “whether German user accounts are affected, and what Facebook plans to do to prevent a repeat of such cases.”

Barley said that European data law is already “significantly more user-friendly” than that in the US, but Europe should continue to work on its rules.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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