From illegitimate data-sharing to tracking “interest in treason:” Facebook’s handling of private data raises concerns in Russia

Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecom and Internet regulator, has requested Facebook to provide explanations about its past data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 mobile device makers, including Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung.

As reported last week by the business daily Kommersant, Roskomnadzor’s move followed a request from the Association of Professional Social Media and Messengers Users (APPSIM in Russian) to investigate potential leaks of Russian users’ private data via the US social network.

The large scope of Facebook’s partnerships with the mobile phone manufacturers was revealed in June by the New York Times, following an in-depth investigation.

“The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, ‘like’ buttons and address books,” the US newspaper found.

These partnerships might not have been compliant with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission: “Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders,” The New York Times wrote.

Failing to comply with personal data law

Roskomnadzor has also threatened to block Facebook in Russia, should the social network still fail to comply, by the end of 2018, with the local legislation on personal data storage.

Adopted in 2014 and applicable since September 2015, this legislation requires companies operating in Russia to store Russian users’ or clients’ personal data on servers physically located in the country (see white paper by EWDN and EY).

While a number of foreign and domestic players — including, eBay, Google and Twitter — have agreed to move user data to Russian servers, some others refused to abide by the law. In certain cases, including LinkedIn, this has led Roskomnadzor to blocked access to these resources from Russia.

“Interest in treason” as an advertising category

Facebook was also criticized last month for including “interest in treason” as an advertising category that could target some 65,000 Russian users. The label sparked a flurry of criticism since it obviously put these citizens at risks.

The social network removed the category, following inquiries from journalists, as reported by The Guardian.

The term “treason” referred only to “its historical significance,” said Facebook. Recognizing, however, that treason is “an illegal activity,” Facebook removed it as an interest category, The Guardian reported.

Featured picture by APPSIM

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