Facebook Inc is facing its first financial penalty for allowing data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica to forage through the personal data of millions of unknowing Facebook users.
A UK government office that investigated the Cambridge Analytica scandal announced its intention to fine Facebook ￡500,000 (US$663,000) for failing to safeguard that user information. The amount is the maximum that the agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), can levy for contravention of Britain’s data privacy laws.
Cambridge Analytica, a London firm financed by wealthy Republican donors, worked for the 2016 election campaign of US President Donald Trump and for a while employed Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign CEO and later a White House adviser.
Facebook said the company illicitly gained access to personal information of up to 87 million users via an academic intermediary, although the firm said the number was much smaller than that.
According to former Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie, a whistle-blower, the firm aimed to construct psychographic profiles it could use to sway the votes of susceptible individuals.
Cambridge Analytica shut down its business in May.
The ICO investigation found that Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information” and did not inform its users “about how their information was harvested by others.”
The office’s decision is not yet final.
Facebook will have an opportunity to respond to the findings, after which the office will render a final judgement.
Damian Collins, chairman of the British parliament’s media committee, yesterday said that Facebook “should now make the results of their internal investigations known to the ICO, our committee and other relevant investigatory authorities.”
Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan said in a statement that the company is reviewing the ICO report and will respond soon.
“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” she added.
Facebook faces several other investigations, including others in Europe, a probe by the US Federal Trade Commission and, reportedly, several others at federal agencies, such as the FBI and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
It could also face a hefty compensation bill in Australia after a leading litigation funder lodged a complaint with the country’s privacy regulator over users’ personal data shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Under Australian law, all organizations must take “reasonable steps” to ensure personal information is held securely and IMF Bentham has teamed up with a major law firm to lodge a complaint with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIO).
The OAIO launched an investigation into the alleged breaches in April and depending on its outcome, a class action could follow.
IMF investment manager Nathan Landis told the Australian newspaper most awards for privacy breaches ranged between A$1,000 and A$10,000 (US$750 and US$7,500).
That implies a potential compensation bill of between A$300 million and A$3 billion.
Additional reporting by AFP
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