Facebook has agreed to pay a fine of £500,000 to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) following an appeal against the watchdog’s ruling last year. In October 2018, the ICO fined Facebook after its investigation into Cambridge Analytica and the use of social media to influence elections. Facebook was accused of violating the Data Protection Act 1998 by not doing enough to stop Cambridge Analytica and protect people’s data. The social media company initially appealed the decision but has now reached a settlement to pay the half a million fine without accepting any liability.
What is the Cambridge Analytica scandal?
An explosive investigation into Cambridge Analytica revealed that the British consulting firm harvested the data of 87 million Facebook users for the purpose of political advertising. The information was used to influence elections across the world particularly for the Trump campaign. Following its own investigation, the ICO accused Facebook of breaching data protection laws by failing to keep the personal information of users secure.
Facebook admitted it “should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action in 2015.” But the company launched an appeal against the ICO’s decision.
Statements from the ICO and Facebook
Following the settlement, the ICO deputy commissioner, James Dipple-Johnstone said: “The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice (MPN) and agreement to pay the fine.”
He continued, “The ICO’s main concern was that U.K. citizen data was exposed to a serious risk of harm. Protection of personal information and personal privacy is of fundamental importance, not only for the rights of individuals but also, as we now know, for the preservation of a strong democracy.”
In a statement, Facebook Associate General Counsel, Harry Kinmonth said, “Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information.”
But the social media company continues to be embroiled in controversy. Facebook’s attempt to curb concerns through privacy cafes in various locations in the UK was largely deemed as a “hollow PR exercise.” In September this year, several databases containing records of over 419 million Facebook users were found unprotected on a server by a TechCrunch researcher. Facebook is also currently under fire for refusing to fact check false political ads.
Jamal Ahmed, Fellow of Information Privacy and Director of Kazient Privacy Experts, comments, “With an upcoming election in the UK it is of paramount importance that political parties in particular, collect and use personal data legally and responsibly especially with targeted digital marketing.”
He further adds, “This fine is nothing more than a light tap on the wrist for Facebook as it will only take eight minutes for them to generate the revenue required to pay the fine.”
It remains to be seen whether another case will be levied against Facebook in the future. Under the newly enacted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the company will face a fine of up to 4% of its annual turnover (up to a £17 million fine) if found guilty of a data breach.
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