JAKARTA • Facebook is facing possible criminal sanctions in Indonesia where police have started to investigate whether the social media company breached privacy laws and allowed the data of Indonesian users to be improperly shared.
Indonesia's Communications Ministry yesterday said it has asked Facebook to confirm whether personal data from any of its citizens was shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
The British-based company is being probed in Britain and the United States over claims that it unlawfully used Facebook data for political ends in a mushrooming privacy scandal that has cast the spotlight on data protection.
Communications Minister Rudiantara said he has asked National Police chief Tito Karnavian to investigate the matter after Facebook revealed on Thursday that the personal information of more than a million Indonesian Facebook users could have been obtained by Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook revealed earlier this week that the personal information of up to 87 million users may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
The firm has been tied to electoral campaigns around the world, including for US President Donald Trump and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
It was accused of obtaining the data to build "psychographic" profiles that would help deliver targeted messages intended to shape voter behaviour in a wide range of elections in the US.
Mr Rudiantara has previously threatened to shut down Facebook over the data breach in Indonesia.
Facebook employees in the country could also face up to 12 years in jail and a fine of as much as 12 billion rupiah (S$1.1 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," Mr 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 has 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.
The massive data breach affecting 87 million users worldwide was Facebook's first official confirmation of the possible scope of the data leak, which was previously said to be at roughly 50 million.
Meanwhile, a European Union executive yesterday said the social media giant has confirmed that the data of 2.7 million EU citizens had been among the cache improperly used by Cambridge Analytica.
The EU is preparing to launch tough new data protection rules next month, under which firms could be fined up to 4 per cent of their global turnover for breaches.
Indonesia, a country of 260 million people and South-east Asia's largest economy, 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.
Separately, Facebook apologised yesterday to Myanmar civil society groups which took issue with CEO Mark Zuckerberg's defence of the platform's record on curbing hate speech roiling the country.
Facebook has been battered by allegations that posts on its site have helped fuel communal bloodshed in Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST