Facebook faces Indonesian police investigation over data breach

Indonesia's Communications Minister Rudiantara said he had issued a warning letter to Facebook and asked the company to share the results of an audit of third-party access to information on its platform. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook is facing possible criminal sanctions in Indonesia as police begin to investigate whether the social-media company breached privacy laws and allowed the data of Indonesian users to be improperly shared.

Indonesia's Communications Minister Rudiantara has asked the National Police chief Tito Karnavian to investigate the matter after Facebook revealed on Thursday (April 5) that the personal information of more than a million Indonesian Facebook users could have been obtained by political consultant Cambridge Analytica. The minister has previously threatened to shut down Facebook over the matter.

Facebook employees in Indonesia could also face up to 12 years in jail and a fine of as much as 12 billion rupiah (S$1 million) if found to have breached Indonesia's privacy rules.

"I am taking this seriously and have taken the necessary steps to coordinate with law enforcement, which in this case is the head of the National Police," Minister Rudiantara, who like many Indonesians uses one name, said during a telephone interview on Thursday night.

The minister, who summoned Facebook representatives to a meeting on Thursday, said he had issued a warning letter to the company. He had also asked Facebook to share the results of an audit of third-party access to information on its platform.

"This may lead us to shut down the application also should there be no satisfactory result or progress," he said.

Facebook said it had taken steps to make its privacy tools easier to find and restrict data access on its platform.

"We will continue to work with privacy and information commissioners all over the world, including Kominfo," a Facebook spokesman said, referring to the Indonesian Ministry of Communications.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said that some advertisers have curtailed spending and acknowledged her team has a long way to go to reassure wary customers.

"We've seen a few advertisers pause with us and they're asking the same questions that other people are asking," Ms Sandberg said. "They want to make sure they can use data and use it safely."

The ongoing fallout over the massive data breach comes after the company also said the data of up to 87 million people worldwide may have been improperly shared with the research firm that helped US President Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It was Facebook's first official confirmation of the possible scope of the data leak, which was previously estimated at roughly 50 million.

A country of 260 million people and South-east Asia's largest economy, Indonesia is a prolific user of social media and boasts more than 115 million Facebook users. The government has been cracking down on the use of social media to publish fake news and hate speech.

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