India’s top information technology official on Wednesday warned against any theft of user data from social media platforms with the aim of influencing elections, singling out Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
“Abuse of social media including Facebook cannot be allowed to impact the fairness of elections,” Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters, according to Reuters.
Prasad went on to personally admonish Zuckerberg.
“Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT minister of India,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. “If any data theft of Indians is done with the collusion of Facebook systems, it shall not be tolerated.”
Prasad’s remarks came in the wake of reports that Cambridge Analytica, a Britain-based consulting firm, improperly obtained information on more than 50 million Facebook users to target U.S. voters in the 2016 presidential election. The scandal has raised new questions about how Facebook manages and grants access to user data and how that information is used in political campaigns.
The firm received Facebook user information through an app developed by a third party company named Global Science Research, according to Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The app collected psychological test data from Facebook users and their friends and shared the information with Cambridge Analytica, allowing the firm to deliver pro-Trump messaging to potential voters online.
Facebook has said Cambridge Analytica obtained the data legitimately, but claims that Global Science Research “lied” to the social media platform and violated its terms of service by transferring the information.
Prasad said Tuesday that the government would deal harshly with similar schemes targeting India’s elections.
“In the wake of recent data theft from Facebook, let my stern warning be heard across the Atlantic, far away in California,” he said, according to Reuters. “Any covert or overt attempt to misuse social media including Facebook to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be tolerated, nor be permitted.”
India is set to hold a national election in 2019, and several states are electing new assemblies this year.
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