Facebook faces record fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

Clay Curtis
July 11, 2018

Facebook has been slapped with a £500,000 fine for the role it played in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87m users was harvested for political purposes.

The British privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO, ) said Wednesday that intends to fine Facebook the maximum possible fine for the data protection violation.

"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.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham launched a probe after it emerged an internet personality quiz was able to gather the data of up to 87 million Facebook users, by accessing not only the details of people taking the test who gave their consent, but that of their "Facebook friends", who had not agreed.

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Today's update "includes the ICO's intention to fine Facebook a maximum £500,000".Had the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened after the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation, the ICO could have hit the tech firm with a penalty up to £17m, or four per cent of global turnover.

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Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS committee said: "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".

Facebook, which gets to "make representations" to the ICO before the regulator finalizes the fine, had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing. "Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes", Denham said. However, the incident was only made public this year thanks to a whistleblower, and the ICO believes Cambridge Analytica not only failed to delete the information as requested, but indeed shared it with others.

The watchdog is investigating whether data obtained from Facebook was misused by both the Leave and Remain campaigns during the European Union referendum, and in the 2016 United States presidential election. "But this can not be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law".

OAIC is conducting its own investigation into whether Facebook breached the Privacy Act, which obligates organisations to ensure customers are notified about the collection and handling of their personal information.

The report also initiates the prosecution of SCL Elections Ltd, which is Cambridge Analytica's parent company, "for failing to properly deal with the ICO's Enforcement Notice".

A Russian Internet company with links to the Kremlin was among the firms Facebook gave an extension allowing them to collect data on unsuspecting users - even after the practice was supposedly stopped, CNN reported Tuesday.

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