Facebook executive Ankhi Das, whose name came up in a recent controversy over alleged bias by the social networking giant in dealing with hate speeches, appeared before a parliamentary panel today and was questioned for nearly two hours, according to sources.
Ankhi Das, Facebook's policy head, was questioned on data protection, according to sources. The company asserted that it was a deposition, not a questioning.
Facebook was told that it cannot use the personal data of citizens for "inferential" purposes in advertising or business or elections. MPs across parties reportedly asked specific questions on what percentage of Facebook's revenue is spent on safeguards for data protection.
Sources said Facebook, which has more than 300 million users in India (its biggest market), was asked how much revenue it generates and how much tax it pays.
"We deeply appreciate the opportunity to discuss data regulation issues with the Members of Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill. We believe that India's data protection law has the potential to propel the country's digital economy and global digital trade, and we wholeheartedly support this effort. That is why we deeply appreciate to be a part of this discussion and will continue to work alongside governments and regulators to find the right solutions which not only protect users' privacy but are also interoperable with other major global privacy regulations," said a Facebook spokesperson.
Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have been asked for their views on data protection and privacy as a joint parliamentary committee examines the Personal Data Protection Bill following concerns raised by opposition parties.
Twitter and Amazon are to appear before the committee on October 28. Amazon wrote to the committee today saying it would not attend the hearing as "its experts are overseas" and cannot travel because of Covid. Amazon's refusal amounts to "breach of privilege", parliament sources told NDTV, adding that coercive action would be initiated if the company's officials failed to show up.
While introducing the draft bill on data protection in parliament last year, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said it empowers the government to ask companies like Facebook, Google and others for anonymous personal and non-personal data.
The opposition Congress had flagged worries on the misuse of data in some cases, especially where national security is involved.
A section of legal experts say the proposed law could give the government unaccounted access to the personal data of users.
Ankhi Das had faced criticism after a US news report in August alleged that she had resisted applying hate-speech rules to a politician from the ruling BJP. When a panel of MPs summoned Facebook last month to explain the allegations, it was not Ankhi Das but the company's business head Ajit Mohan who appeared and fielded questions.