Facebook under scanner: Sued in US for “spying” on Instagram users

Facebook accused of intentionally using the camera for having access to “lucrative and valuable data” on its users; under scrutiny in India too for going soft on hate speeches

According to Instagram, since the pandemic first began in March, live streaming increased 60 per cent on the social media site in March on a week-to-week basis. Representative photo: iStock

Facebook Inc, which owns Instagram, is in the dock again as it has been sued in the US Court for allegedly spying on Instagram users, through unauthorised use of mobile phone cameras.

Instagram user Brittany Conditi filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco federal court, leveling charges against the social media app for intentionally using the camera for having access to “lucrative and valuable data” on its users that it would not otherwise have access to, Bloomberg reported.

This lawsuit, based on the media reports published in July, highlighted Instagram’s unauthorised access to phone cameras even when the app was not in use. However, Facebook in the past had denied the report and blamed a bug, which it said it would correct. The company described it as a false notification trigger that accessed iPhone cameras.

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In another lawsuit filed last month, the company was accused of using facial-recognition to illegally harvest biometric data of 100 million Instagram users. Facebook had, however, denied the allegations stating that “Instagram doesn’t use facial recognition”.

In July last year, the Federal Trade Commission, US, fined Facebook $5 billion for various privacy related violations. The fine was the biggest in FTC’s history.

Meanwhile, back in India, with the hate speech allegations against the company heating up amid the ongoing Lok Sabha session, Congress Member of Parliament, Manickam Tagore, on Friday gave an Adjournment Motion notice in the house over Facebook’s interference in 2014 elections and after that.

An adjournment motion is given to draw the attention of the House to a recent matter of urgent public importance having serious consequences.

A recent Wall Street Journal report, quoting current and former Facebook employees, said the company went “soft on Hindutva elements and ruling BJP members over their controversial posts, which if curbed could have helped control the violence”.

In the article titled ‘Facebook Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics’, the publication reports how the company’s top executive opposed a proposal to ban controversial politicians and their posts and looked the other way.

But both the government and Facebook are in denial about the allegations.

On September 16, in a question in parliament on whether the government has noticed that some social media platforms are allegedly trying to destroy democracy, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology replied saying the minister (Ravi Shankar Prasad) has written to CEO of Facebook about alleged bias of the platform and asked them to ensure integrity and neutrality of the Facebook and the people working for them.

It also said the government has no plans to set up an Joint Parliamentary Committee enquiry as  into the aforesaid matters; and (f) if so, the details thereof and the steps taken by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has already taken up the matter with Facebook.

Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee also probed Facebook’s deliberate and intentional attempt to not act on hate posts on its platform to help the ruling party push its agenda. Despite the Delhi Assembly summoning Facebook, the company officials failed to appear before it.

During the hearing, which was live streamed for the media, Raghav Chadha, the chairperson of the committee and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lawmaker, said the company’s refusal to appear before the panel was an attempt to conceal crucial facts regarding the social media firm’s role in the communal riots in north-east Delhi in February. “This non-cooperation shows that Facebook India wants to hide its role in the riots,” Chadha had said.

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