Meta AI Rollout Raises Privacy Concerns, Govt Receives Letter from Indian Legal Services Organisation


The letter draws attention to similar privacy concerns raised in Europe and Brazil. (Getty)

The letter draws attention to similar privacy concerns raised in Europe and Brazil. (Getty)

The introduction of Meta AI by Meta aims to assist users on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger with tasks such as generating text and answering questions

A leading legal services organisation, SFLC.in (Software Freedom Law Center, India), has formally raised significant privacy concerns regarding the recent rollout of Meta AI on Meta platforms in India. In a detailed letter sent to Union minister for Electronics and IT, Ashwini Vaishnaw, on July 9, the organisation highlighted potential risks and urged immediate action.

The introduction of Meta AI by Meta aims to assist users on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger with tasks such as generating text and answering questions. Built on the Meta Llama 3 model, this AI assistant is trained using publicly available data posted by both users and non-users on Meta’s platforms. As per the details mentioned in the letter, India, being a crucial market for social media companies, presents unique challenges and concerns, given its large and active user base on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.

The letter draws attention to similar privacy concerns raised in Europe and Brazil. In Europe, Meta’s rollout of Meta AI has faced legal challenges in 11 countries, primarily for non-compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) has even stalled the rollout, citing privacy issues and regulatory hurdles. Likewise, Brazil’s National Data Protection Authority (ANPD) has suspended Meta’s new privacy policy due to concerns over the use of personal data for training generative AI systems.

Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, SFLC.in (Software Freedom Law Center, India), told News18: “India is one of the biggest markets for Meta products and because of the sheer number of users, the data collected is enormous and often includes data of non-users. When this data is combined with the power of AI, it results in large-scale risks like profiling. The regulators in various countries, including Europe and Brazil, have stopped the rollout of Meta AI considering the risks posed by large-scale processing of personal data by AI models. The ministry needs to take a look at this considering the large user base in India.”

The letter emphasised that under EU law, online platforms are required to offer users the ability to opt out of data processing activities. In contrast, Indian law currently lacks such a mandate. Although the Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023 is pending implementation, the automated processing of data by AI systems demands rigorous scrutiny. It also stated that AI systems must not process user data on a large scale without proper regulation.

However, when asked about Meta’s data collection consent process, Sugathan said: “They take consent, but in most cases, this is not informed consent as users are unaware of the implications involved. The process of revoking consent is also quite difficult and is not straightforward. Personal data that is collected includes any text, photographs, captions, etc except private messages. This could also include data of non-users — example a friend who is in your picture who is not a user of Meta products.”

In the letter, SFLC.in, a non-profit which works exclusively on technology, law, and policy, highlighted the inadequacy of the current opt-out process, describing it as “long-winded and obfuscating” and stressed the need for transparent and straightforward mechanisms for users to control their data.

The organisation also wrote in the letter: “Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of any ethical AI framework, as also highlighted by the central government think tank NITI Aayog. Furthermore, social media platforms must be wary of the enormous powers of inference that AI carries, creating privacy issues such as profiling and surveillance.”

It also underscores the urgency of halting the Meta AI rollout in India to protect citizens’ privacy and data security. SFLC.in reiterated the importance of upholding the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India, which enshrines the right to privacy as a fundamental right.

While copies of the letter have been sent to the Additional Secretary and the Minister of State, Ministry of Electronics and IT, the government is yet to respond with their decision.



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