Meta and Kazakhstan spar over Facebook control

Facebook has told the Irish Data Protection Commission that a breach involving the personal information of 533 million users worldwide took place prior to the entry into force of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, and therefore the company 'chose not to notify' the violation to the authorities.

Over the weekend, the personal data of millions of Facebook users appeared on an online hacking forum. [Shutterstock]

Facebook owner Meta Platforms and the government of Kazakhstan issued contradictory statements on Tuesday (2 November) after the Kazakh government announced that it had been granted exclusive access to the social network’s content reporting system.

In what it called a joint statement with Facebook, the Kazakh government on Monday touted the purported exclusive access as a compromise solution after the Central Asian nation threatened to block Facebook for millions of local users.

“Facebook has provided Kazakhstan direct and exclusive access to Facebook’s “Content Reporting System” (CRS) which can help the government to report content that may violate Facebook’s global content policy and local laws of Kazakhstan”, the statement on the website of the Kazakhs government reads.

According to the “Joint Statement”, Kazakhstan is the first country in Central Asia to have access to the system and already be onboarded for the direct channel to contact Facebook’s global operation teams.

Facebook’s Regional Public Policy Director George Chen is quoted saying: “Facebook is delighted to work with the Government of Kazakhstan together, particularly in the aspect of online safety for children. To make the first step for our long-term cooperation with the government, we are delighted to provide the ‘Content Reporting System’ to the Government of Kazakhstan, which we hope can help the government to deal with harmful content in a more efficient and effective manner. The Facebook team will also continue to provide training to Kazakhstan to keep its cyberspace safe.”

But Meta spokesperson Ben McConaghy denied any specific exclusive access and said the company had a dedicated online channel for governments around the world to report content that they believe violates local law.

“We follow a consistent global process to assess individual requests – independent from any government – in line with Facebook’s policies, local laws and international human rights standards,” he said in an email to Reuters.

“This process is the same in Kazakhstan as it is for other countries around the world.”

Meta Platforms has not published the statement that Kazakhstan called a joint one, although local news website Zakon.kz quoted Information Minister Aida Balayeva as insisting its text had been agreed with the company.

Balyaeva explains that the talks were conducted with the (Meta) Facebook office for the region of China, Mongolia and Central Asia with headquarters in Hong Kong.

“The text of the joint statement published on November 1 and its publication in the media were fully aligned with the leadership of the regional office”, writes Balayeva on her Facebook page.

The oil-rich nation’s parliament in September started working on a bill that would let the government block social network and messaging apps unless their developers open offices in the country and appoint executives personally responsible for reviewing the authorities’ complaints.

Parliamentary deputy Aidos Sarym, one of the bill’s authors, said on his Facebook page on Monday that the bill had paved the way for talks with tech giants and the authorities were now ready to soften its provisions.

Critics of the bill have accused authorities in the nation of 19 million of seeking to gain new censorship tools, while the bill’s authors say it aims to prevent cyber-bullying and the spread of other dangerous content.

The government has said there are at least 3.2 million Facebook users in Kazakhstan. Other Meta Platforms applications such as Instagram and WhatsApp are even more popular.

Facebook has long faced criticism from rights group for being too compliant with government censorship requests.

The service has mostly avoided shutdowns outside of countries such as China, where it has long been blocked, but has faced pressure this year in a number of countries including India, Vietnam and Myanmar.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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