TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – Last month, Indonesia, like the rest of the world, was rocked by the latest data breach by Facebook. On March 25, three days after the news of the scandal broke, Communication and Information Technology Minister Rudiantara called the representative office of the social media giant with 2.2 billion users worldwide to inquire about the incident.
Although the number of affected users was initially quoted as 50 million, including 175,000 from Indonesia or 0.35percent, the figure swelled to 87 million, including 1.1 million from Indonesia. The data accessed through a Facebook survey app called This is Your Digital Life was acquired and used by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, to map consumers as well as voters, such as those of the US presidential elections two years ago.
Rudiantara, 58, has sent two warning letters to Facebook asking the latter to block similar survey apps, to give the details of the leaked Indonesian accounts and to conduct an internal audit. Although the social platform failed to meet his demand, Rudiantara is still in a quandary over the last option: to shut down the site. “Many Indonesians use Facebook to earn their living,” he said.
Last Sunday, Rudiantara received Tempo’s Reza Maulana and Angelina Anjar at his Central Jakarta residence. During an hour-long interview, including an interval for a maghrib prayer, he also talked about using local apps, online taxi regulations and why he shuns Facebook.
Many people doubt your seriousness about blocking Facebook. What’s your defense?
I never hesitate to suspend or block any site. I’ve done that before with Telegram and Tumblr. We were also going to block WhatsApp had they not taken down the pornographic content within 48 hours. They immediately did. People see Indonesia as firm. We can flex our muscles because we are a huge market.
Then why haven’t you blocked Facebook yet?
Because many Indonesian users earn their living via the app. Initially, it was mainly used to find old friends including old flames (laughs), and later it developed into a marketplace. This isn’t the case with the US, its home country.
When is the deadline for Facebook to submit the audit report?
We are awaiting progress. We requested the report in our first letter. I told the media to give it one week. Before the deadline, or around five days after I sent the letter, news of apps similar to This is Your Digital Life such as QubeYou and AgregateQ emerged. So I sent a second letter, but around the same time Facebook responded to the first letter informing that they had banned Cambridge Analytica and that around 1.1 million Facebook users from Indonesia were affected. But they still haven’t complied with the request for the audit result, or even the list of affected accounts. (Following the questioning by the national police’s criminal investigation unit last week, Facebook Indonesia’s Public Policy head Ruben Hattari said he could not ascertain when they would complete the audit. On the previous day, after a meeting with the House of Representatives, he said: “We have provided information to users who are affected directly or indirectly as per April 9, 2018.”)
Will you ban Facebook if they don’t issue the audit report?
We’ll see. Because their statements keep changing. Who guarantees that 87 million is the final number? They previously said it was 50 million. They claimed they had shut down Cambridge Analytica’s app but there are still similar apps like QubeYou and AgregateQ.
Are there any findings about the two apps?
Not yet. But there are news about them. That’s why we gave the second reprimand.
Is there any indication that Indonesia was specifically targeted?
Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm. I don’t know what their intentions are. Perhaps they just wanted to harvest data from every country. The numbers of affected users in Indonesia, Philippines and the UK are almost the same.
There are concerns that the data will be used for general elections, like in the US.
There are no such indications yet. If the data was really stolen in 2015, there were no elections here at that time. Data from 1.1 million people is relatively small for the 2018 regional head elections held in 171 regions. But this doesn’t mean that we are taking this lightly. If they are proven to specifically target Indonesia for political purposes, that would give us another justification to block Facebook.
Does the ministry also monitor other social media?
Right now it’s only Facebook. But we will ask all of them to comply with the ministry’s regulations.