Facebook in South Africa: Are we protected?

On 17 March 2018, the New York Times and the Observer of London broke the news that the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica used the data of 50 million Facebook users – without their knowledge or permission – to help the Trump campaign to influence the US elections. (The original New York Times article can be found here).

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing investigations by Parliament and Government Regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. Closer to home, reports have surfaced that the companies played a role in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2013 and 2017 campaigns for the Kenyan Presidency. The Managing Director of the company has claimed that not only did they conduct a survey, but “rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto” and “then we’d write all the speeches and we’d stage the whole thing – so just about every element of the campaign”.

There has been a huge uproar in the US and UK with Mark Zuckerberg being called before the US Congress and UK parliamentary panel to answer questions on the debacle.  Zuckerberg is set to appear before Congress today and tomorrow, but has declined the invitation to appear before the UK parliament.

The data of 50 million users which is at the heart of the congressional inquiry was collected over a number of years by Aleksandr Kogan, an academic based at the University of Cambridge, who developed an app which not only gathered data from the people paid to download it (people were paid to download the app which was advertised on a website for doing odd jobs online), but from all of those people’s friends as well. Reportedly, of the 50 million Facebook users whose data was collected, only 270 000 of those users had consented to having their data harvested. All that the researcher divulged to Facebook and the users was that he was collecting information for academic purposes.

It is now reported that approximately 60 000 South Africans’ data may have been breached after as few as 330 people downloaded the app designed by Aleksandr Kogan.

Facebook’s lax privacy policies have been called into question before. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has for years been calling on Facebook to clean up their act and implement more stringent data protection. (See the full ACLU post here)

In 2009, the ACLU warned against the lack of privacy when you took online quizzes:

‘Even if your Facebook profile is “private,” when you take a quiz, an unknown quiz developer could be accessing almost everything in your profile: your religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, pictures, and groups. Facebook quizzes also have access to most of the info on your friends’ profiles. This means that if your friend takes a quiz, they could be giving away your personal information too.’

In 2016, the ACLU in California also discovered, through a public records investigation, that social media surveillance companies like Geofeedia were improperly exploiting Facebook developer data access to monitor Black Lives Matter and other activists. They again sounded the alarm to Facebook, publicly calling on the company to strengthen its data privacy policies and “institute human and technical auditing mechanisms” to both prevent violations and take swift action against developers for misuse.

The ACLU reports that Facebook has modified its policies and practices over the years to address some of these issues. Its current app platform prevents apps from accessing formerly-available data about a user’s friends. And, after months of advocacy by the ACLU along with the Center for Media Justice and Color of Change, Facebook prohibited use of its data for surveillance tools.

Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica debacle demonstrates that the company still has significant issues to resolve. The ACLU points out that Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica data misuse back in December 2015 but did not block the company’s access to Facebook until hours before the current story broke. And its initial public response was to hide behind the assertion that “everyone involved gave their consent,” with executives conspicuously silent about the issue. It wasn’t until Wednesday, 21 March 2018, that Mark Zuckerberg surfaced and acknowledged that this was a, “breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it,” and promised to take steps to repair that trust and prevent incidents like this from occurring again.

The question remains: how will Facebook improve its privacy and data retention practices? With the EU General Data Regulation coming into force in May 2018, Facebook will be forced to comply with privacy principles which run contrary to its established business model. These include: having to request Facebook users’ consent in clear and unambiguous language to process their private data, mandatory notification of users when a data breach occurs, and providing users the ‘right to be forgotten’ which would empower users to demand that Facebook delete their data, stop any further dissemination and require third parties associated with Facebook stop any further processing of the data.

In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), upon coming fully into operation, will apply to the processing of data of the type used by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica would constitute the ‘responsible party’ and ‘operator’ respectively, placing certain duties on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. South African Facebook users would have recourse with the Information Regulator or courts were a similar breach of data to occur after the commencement of the Act. Their claim would lie in the fact that Facebook would have breached the conditions for lawful processing of data laid out in Chapter 3 of POPI. These conditions include requirements similar to those in the EUGDR, such as: further processing limitation, which requires Facebook to only allow further processing of personal information which is reasonably related to the initial reason the data was collected for; security safeguards, meaning that Facebook would have to take reasonable and appropriate measures to ensure that the integrity and confidentiality of the data is ensured; and data subject participation, which gives the user the right to request confirmation that Facebook has their personal information, and request that this information be corrected or deleted.

View the full ACLU post by Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Director, ACLU of California and Chris Conley, Policy Attorney, ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project and their suggestions here.

By: Alexandra Ashton and Tsanga Mukumba

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.


Women’s Month 2016: Child marriages in South Africa

Child marriage affects girls in more ways than one. They are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers at the age that they get married. Child marriage results in girls being disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety.

The health of a child bride diminishes from the date of her marriage, as she “becomes a woman” before her body has been allowed to develop naturally. As a result of her age, she is less able to negotiate and articulate her rights to bodily autonomy. Access to healthcare and sexual reproductive healthcare, in particular, is difficult in the rural context and is exacerbated within the context of a rural girl child.

She stands a greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and during childbirth. Her exposure to HIV/AIDS infection, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, increases. In the context of poverty, where she is reliant on her husband and her in-laws to care for her, she is at greater risk of having her rights to healthcare denied.

Many girls suffer domestic violence from their husbands and even from their in-laws. Her ability to protect herself and to have her bodily integrity respected is ignored. In instances where her own family has consented to the marriage, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave her abusive husband.

Child marriage usually means the end of a girl’s formal education. Once married, girls are burdened with their new responsibilities as wives and mothers and often stay at home as a result. A girl child’s husband or in-laws may not be supportive of her education and burden her with new adult responsibilities, leaving her no time to attend school. She may become entrenched in the cycle of poverty because, with little access to education, her opportunities to seek employment outside of the home diminish.

What can be done?

Government should set clear and consistent legislation that establishes 18 as the minimum age of marriage and remove any laws which allow for parental consent, for the following reasons:

  • Setting the legal age for marriage at 18 provides an objective, rather than subjective, standard of maturity, which safeguards a child from being married when they are not physically, mentally or emotionally ready.
  • The existence of laws which prohibit child marriage is an important tool to help those working to dissuade families and communities from marrying off their daughters as children.
  • It is imperative that children are recognised in the law as being children and are afforded the full protection of the law. When a child does not have the right to vote or enter into other contracts before 18, why is marriage allowed?
  • Ending child marriage is not only the right thing to do, but is also an economically practical decision for empowering young female leaders who can support themselves and uplift their communities.

This post was developed as an informative tool for women. Please visit your nearest LRC office for further advice and assistance. Written by Naushina Rahim

Women’s Month 2016: What to do if you are raped

What is rape?

Forced sexual penetration of a person’s (male or female) genital organs, anus, mouth, or any other part of the body with a penis or an object that can be used for sexual penetration.

Who can be raped?

Any person of any age: this includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, as well as men and women.

Who can commit a rape?

It can be anyone: a stranger, a friend, a family member, someone you know, a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife or partner, or a group of people.

What should you do if you are raped?

Find a safe place and tell the first person who you trust what happened, especially if you need medical attention.

If you want to report the matter (but you don’t have to)

1. Go to the police station as soon as possible. If the police do not allow you to report the rape, DO NOT GIVE UP. You have a right to report the rape, so speak to the Station Commander, or go to another police station. Later on, you can make a complaint against the police officer that didn’t help you.
2. If you are hurt, first go to the hospital or doctor. Tell the doctor that you were raped so that you can get appropriate treatment. The police must also take you to the hospital so they can collect evidence left on your body/clothes.
3. If you want to report the matter to the police, then it is best not to shower/bath before you have been examined by a doctor. Do not throw away or wash the clothes you were wearing, as it is evidence of the crime.
4. If you change your clothes, keep the clothes you were wearing when the rape happened in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper. Do not put them in a plastic packet as this can destroy evidence.
5. Do not eat or drink anything or take any medication before the doctor examines you. If you did, it is important that you tell the doctor who examines you what you have eaten or what medication you have taken.

Get the following from a doctor (even if you do not report the rape to the police)

1. An HIV test and Anti-Retroviral Treatment within 72 hours to prevent HIV infection. This treatment is called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
You must go back to the doctor for further HIV tests and take tablets every 28 days so that the treatment works properly.
You can ask that your rapist be tested for HIV/AIDS and that this status be disclosed to you.
2. Antibiotics to prevent you from getting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
3. Morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy.
4. Clear instructions on how and when to take the different medications.
5. Referrals for support and counselling.

This post was developed as an informative tool for women. Please visit your nearest LRC office for further advice and assistance. Written by Sally Hurt

When will government speak out against Hate Crimes?

The official crime statistics report released on 19 September by the South African Police Service for the period April 2013 to March 2014 reveals a substantial increase in almost all categories of crime. The same report shows that there was a slight decrease in the total sexual offences. A drop of 5.6% was reported showing a decline from 66,387 last year to the current figure of 62,649.

It is against this backdrop, on 17 September we heard of yet another black lesbian being raped and suffocated. She was found dead in the perpetrators bedroom in Daveyton in the East Rand of Johannesburg. Thembelihle ‘Lihle’ Sokhela, a 28 year old lesbian was last seen a few days earlier. The alleged perpetrator, Thabo Molefe, aged 45years turned himself in at the Daveyton Police.

It is unclear how Lihle ended up in his bedroom. Thabo will remain in police custody throughout the court procedures. According to his mother, Thabo, has a history of violence and had been physically abusing her. “I do not want him in my house anymore; they should keep him locked in there. I am also scared of him” said Thabo’s mother. Thabo’s bail application depends on him finding another address, as his mother does not want him in her house.

In August 2011 the Department of Justice appointed the National Task Team (NTT) in order to address the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people. The NTT later established National Rapid Response Team to fast track the numerous unsolved criminal cases as a matter of urgency. On 29 April 2014, under a grand fanfare, the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr J.T Radebe, MP launched the National Intervention Strategy at the Women’s Gaol, Constitutional Hill. The NTT has been notably silent on the latest spate of gruensome murders witnessed in South Africa.

Less than one month ago, Disebo ‘Gift’ Makau was strangled to death with a wire in Ventersdorp in the North West province. A black lesbian, open to her family about her sexuality, Gift was found naked in a yard opposite her house with a hose pipe shoved down her throat and the water tap left running open. The perpetrator will appear in court on 6 October.

Protest demonstration for Disebo Gift Makau_Gugu_Mandla
Protest demonstration in front of the Ventersdorp court for Disebo Gift Makau’s case. Photo by Gugu Mandla

These horrendous violations come at a time when South Africa has an opportunity to vote ‘Yes’, to a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI). The resolution proposed by Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, proposes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports bi-annually on good practice and developments in addressing violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. “It is really worrying that South Africa has not engaged on this resolution, given that it was the lead country along with Brazil to propose SOGI back in 2011. South Africa voting Yes for this resolution, will be an affirmation of solidarity of many peoples across regions who do not have legal and constitutional protections like we have in South Africa”, says Jabu Pereira, Director of Iranti-org. In response, Iranti-org, has sent an open-letter to the Minister of International Relations, Justice and Social Development to vote in favour of this resolution.

As many civil society organisations prepare and plan a visit to Soweto pride this Saturday, we urge people to have a moment of silence and remember Duduzile Zozo, Thapelo Makhutle, Sasha Lee Gordon, Andritha Morifi, Sanna Supa and many others who lost their lives based on who they chose to love. Lilhe will be laid to rest in Daveyton on Sunday 28 September.

For more information, contact:

Kokeletso Legoete

Tel: 011 325 2366



By: Dolar Vasani and Kokeletso Legoete

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.