Israel Investigating Facebook Over Personal Data Harvested by Cambridge Analytica

Abuse of data of 50 million Facebook users may also have included Israelis – including some 200,000 U.S. voters living in Israel

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 18, 2017.
\ Stephen Lam/ REUTERS

The Israeli Authority for Protection of Privacy announced Thursday it was launching an administrative probe into Facebook following reports that data from the social media giant was transferred to Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica is under fire for harvesting the private information of millions of Facebook users in order to sway voters. The firm reportedly used various tricks to entrap the rivals of their clients.

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The probe will examine "whether personal data of Israeli citizens was illegal used in a way that infringes upon their right to privacy and the provisions of the Israeli Privacy Law," the ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Britain's Channel 4 News published a video which secretly taped executives from the company admitting that they used British and Israeli spies, honey traps and fake news campaigns to help their clients.

Cambridge Analytica Uncovered: Secret filming reveals election tricksChannel 4 News

The New York Times and The Observer of London reported over the weekend that Cambridge Analytica exploited information from over 50 million Facebook users as it was developing techniques to support 2016's election bid. The newspapers reported that the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook.

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Israel's Justice Ministry is already working with Facebook and only a few days ago Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said at a meeting with a Facebook official that terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah “have switched to operating on Twitter instead of Facebook” due to its cooperation with Israel.

“Through Twitter, terrorist organizations promote terrorist activity and incite violence, including through public activity that they engage in without fear,” Shaked told Delphine Reyre, Facebook’s director of policy for southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “The reason is the fruitful cooperation between Israel and Facebook, compared to the lack of cooperation by Twitter.”

Shaked said this is why the government has submitted a bill that would allow it to ask the courts to order the removal of social media content in certain circumstances. “We called it the ‘Facebook Law,’ but the truth is that it should have been called the ‘Twitter Law,’” she added.

Gili Baseman Reingold, legal advisor for the Authority for the Protection of Privacy, said they were very "troubled" by the recent reports. "These are manipulations that touch at the heart of democratic existence, in Australia and India and Candada and the (European) Union – the only way is to join forces against these tycoons."

Reingold added that so far, Facebook has been cooperative with inquiries, and that she hopes the probe does not lead to international enforcement against the social media giant.

As many as 200,000 U.S. citizens live in Israel and have the right to vote in the U.S. election, according to iVoteIsrael. Poll consultant Mitchell Barak noted in 2016 that U.S. voters in Israel usually break seventy-five percent for Republicans based on 2008 and 2012 results, but in 2016 the vote was split 49-44%. The close vote in Israel highlighted why the Trump campaign invested heavily in winning votes in Israel, which often come from swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Cambridge Analytica has ties to both former Trump chief counselor Steve Bannon and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.

Facebook suspended the company on Friday after finding that it had violated its data privacy policies, preventing it from buying ads or administering client pages.

Cambridge Analytica said it strongly denies the media claims, and that it deleted all Facebook data it obtained from a third-party app in 2014 after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.