Representational picture | Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg File Photo
Representational picture | Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg File Photo
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New Delhi: Facebook says it has banned a Chinese firm that mines data for ‘hybrid warfare’, days after it was reported that the company was tracking as many as 10,000 Indian public personalities, including PM Narendra Modi and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat.

In an emailed statement to ThePrint, Facebook said “scraping public data”, as Shenzhen-based Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. has done, is against its policies.

“Scraping public data, as this company appears to have done to a number of services including Facebook, is against our policies. Even public data shouldn’t be collected in this way. We have banned Zhenhua Data Technology from our platform and sent a cease-and-desist letter to ordering them to stop,” the social media giant added.

However, Facebook did not answer queries on whether the ban extends to all its services like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the date the firm was banned, and whether other accounts linked to Zhenhua, but with different names, could continue to use the platform.


Also Read: India raises Zhenhua ‘snooping’ issue with China envoy Sun, sets up panel to probe matter


The big exposé

The activities of Zhenhua came to light earlier this week with a report in The Indian Express, with its findings gaining notice amid the months-long stand-off between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“Scraping information from the web and social media platforms, tracking research papers, articles, patents, recruitment positions, Zhenhua’s monitoring services map what it calls person information and relationship mining – networks among individuals, institutions and organisations, and changes in their leadership positions based on information from multiple sources,” the Express said in its report, which also said the firm counts the Chinese government and military as clients.

Zhenhua has denied all allegations, saying in a statement issued Tuesday that it only integrates public data.

National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) Lt General (Dr) Rajesh Pant had told ThePrint on 14 September, the day the Express report was published, that even open-source public data can be used for profiling purposes. 

“That is why we banned 224 (Chinese) apps. Even though the data collected is from open sources, it can be used for influence operations after profiling. Any intelligence operation against the nation is a matter of concern, although in this there is no loss of classified information.”

The Chinese government weighed in on the controversy Wednesday, saying it is a staunch defender of cybersecurity and reiterating the company’s defence.


Also Read: ‘It’s data integration’ — Chinese firm Zhenhua denies charges of illegal data mining


 

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