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Facebook enhancing security features ahead of India polls, says Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that Facebook is enhancing its security features to ensure the integrity of upcoming key elections in countries like India and Brazil on its platform, even as the social media giant faces flak over a major data breach scandal by a British firm linked to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“We have a responsibility to do this, not only for the 2018 midterms in the US, which are going to be a huge deal this year and that’s just a huge focus for us, but there’s a big election in India this year, there’s a big election in Brazil, there are big elections around the world, and you can bet that we are really committed to doing everything that we need to do to make sure that the integrity of those elections on Facebook is secured,” said Mr Zuckerberg told CNN.

Earlier in the day, Mr Zuckerberg, breaking days of silence, admitted in a post on Facebook that the social network had “made mistakes” that led to millions of users having their data exploited by a political consultancy firm.

A data scandal erupted after a whistleblower revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to Trump’s presidential campaign, accessed personal data of 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, and might have kept that data even after Facebook told the company to delete it. Cambridge Analytica had created psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users via a personality prediction app, created by a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan.

In the interview with CNN he said he was “really sorry”, and pledged to take action against “rogue apps”.

Facebook, he added, is changing the way it shares data with third-party applications.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you… We also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote in his post.

Facebook, he said, will restrict developers’ data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse.

“We will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in — to only your name, profile photo and email address. We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Facebook will also remove developers’ access to users’ data if the app hasn’t been used by the person in three months.

Over breach of data, Facebook is facing an investigation by the US’ Federal Trade Commission and calls for legislative testimonies in the UK.

The US authorities are also investigating allegations that Russia influenced US presidential elections in 2016 among others by spreading fake news on social media websites.

Mr Zuckerberg said that a lot of hard work is needed to make “it harder for nation-states like Russia to do election interference, to make it so that trolls and other folks can’t spread fake news, but we can get in front of this.”

He also said the tech giant is now using artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure that no organisation or entity misuses Facebook to influence elections.

“I think what’s clear is that in 2016, we were not as on top of a number of issues as we should have (been), whether it was Russian interference or fake news. But what we have seen since then is, a number of months later there was a major French election, and there we deployed some AI tools that did a much better job of identifying Russian bots and basically Russian potential interference and weeding that out of the platform ahead of the election. And we were much happier with how that went,” Mr Zuckerberg told CNN.

“In 2017, with the special election in Alabama, we deployed some new AI tools to identify fake accounts and false news, and we found a significant number of Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news, and were able to eliminate those,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had on Tuesday warned Facebook against any attempt to influence India’s electoral process through “undesirable means”.

“Mr Mark Zuckerberg, you better note the observation of the IT minister of India. We welcome FB  in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through collusion of FB system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent powers in the IT Act, we shall use them, including summoning you to India,” minister had warned.


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