Watchdog urges record £500000 fine for Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Image Credit Alexandra Popova  Shutterstock

Image Credit Alexandra Popova Shutterstock

The UK Information Commissioner's Office is threatening the company with the maximum penalty allowed, it said on Wednesday when issuing its first findings in a probe that looked at some 30 organisations, including social-media platforms such as Facebook.

Without detailing how the information may have been used, it said the company had "failed to be transparent about how people's data was harvested by others".

The chairman of the United Kingdom Parliament's media committee said the government office that investigated the Cambridge Analytica scandal has fined Facebook 500,000 pounds or $663,000 for failing to safeguard users' data.

Facebook faces a record fine of £500,000 from Britain's data watchdog for failing to protect users whose data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

As such, the "investigation into data analytics in political campaigns" has resulted in a number of other regulatory actions and recommendations. "But this can not be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law", ICO's information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said in a statement.

Facebook will get a chance to respond to the proposed penalties before the ICO releases a final decision.

The Facebook probe is part of a wider investigation into the use of data in political campaigns, which the ICO launched a year ago, the interim results of which are out today.

Future violations will be able to be punished much more strictly, however: Under GDPR, the EU's new data protection legislation, companies can be fined up to €20 million or 4% of their global annual turnover, whichever is higher. According to former Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower, the firm aimed to construct psychographic profiles it could use to sway the votes of susceptible individuals. It's also about half of what the Spanish data protection authorities previous year extracted from to the firm for privacy failings. "But this can not be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law", she said in a statement.

The scandal took place before new European Union data protection laws that allow much larger fines came into force. "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".

The social networking giant admitted in April the data of up to 87 million people worldwide - including more than 300,000 in Australia - was harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

Mr Collins said his own committee will publish its interim report about disinformation and data use in political campaigns later this month.

The ICO said it expects to have wrapped up these investigations by the end of October. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation'.

"The number of Facebook users affected by this kind of data scraping may be far greater than has now been acknowledged".

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