Facebook Fined in the UK Over Cambridge Analytica Data Breaches

Facebook Fined in the UK Over Cambridge Analytica Data Breaches
John Smithies

Facebook will be hit by a ₤500,000 ($660,323) fine by British regulators over the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw the personal data of 87 million Facebook users accessed by the company.

The UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said on July 11 that she would fine the company over breaches of data protection law.

Denham said that Facebook had broken the law by failing to safeguard people’s information and had not been transparent about how data was harvested by others on its platform.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness, and compliance with the law,” she said in a statement.

The fine is small for a company with a market value of $590 billion but was the maximum amount allowed under Britain’s old data protection laws.

With the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation in May, companies can be fined up to 4 percent of their revenue for data breaches.

Cambridge Analytica has been accused of working with the campaign group Leave.EU ahead of Britain’s vote on whether to leave the European Union in 2016.

The company said that while it did pitch for work on the campaign, it did not end up doing any actual work for it.

Facebook will have the opportunity to respond to the commissioner before a final decision is made, and said it was reviewing the report.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, said in a statement.

“We have been working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the U.S. and other countries.”

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary inquiry, said that other Facebook apps could also have collected data on users.

“Given that the ICO is saying that Facebook broke the law, it is essential that we now know which other apps that ran on their platform may have scraped data in a similar way,” he said.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has faced questioning by U.S., EU, and UK lawmakers over how Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain the data of its users.

In Australia, the social media giant could face legal action over its relationship to Cambridge Analytica.

More than 311,000 Australian users’ data may have been used without authorization, Facebook said in April when Australia’s Information Commissioner, the country’s privacy regulator, began to investigate.

Litigation funder IMF Bentham said it already had a prime litigant, a man from Sydney who did not want to be identified.

“There’s just not that much precedent, certainly not for the sort of scale that we’re talking about here,” he said, referring to the potential number of litigants.

Earlier this month, Facebook’s share value dropped after it was reported that a federal probe in the United States had been widened, with the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission joining the Department of Justice in their investigation.

Reuters contributed to this report.