Facebook faces record fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

Daniel Leal-olivas  AFP  Getty Images

Facebook could be fined 500,000 pounds ($894,000) by Britain's privacy regulator after the social-network giant failed to prevent key user data falling into the hands of a political consultancy that helped get President Donald Trump elected.

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.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) today announced that the social media giant will be fined £500,000 for breaching data protection laws.

Lawyers have lodged a mass complaint to Australian privacy authorities on behalf of Facebook users caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"In 2014 and 2015, the Facebook platform allowed an app. that ended up harvesting 87 million profiles of users around the world that was then used by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 presidential campaign and in the referendum", Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, told BBC radio. That probe is still ongoing, but the watchdog released a progress report on Wednesday, plus a separate report containing recommendations about the issue of personal information and political influence.

It also said it would send warning letters to 11 political parties to compel them to audit their data protection practices. The issue here is that the people whose data is being bought may not have consented to being exploited in this way.

"We are at a crossroads".

"We are fully cooperating with the investigation now under way by the Australian Privacy Commissioner and will review any additional evidence that is made available when the UK Office of the Information Commissioner releases their report", the spokeswoman said.

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

The ICO began by examining the use of personal data by campaigns on both sides of the European Union referendum.

ICO, which does not normally publish its findings, said it would give the public another update on its investigation in October.

Normally, the ICO would not publicize the fact that it has warned a company about an imminent fine.

The British agency said it is still weighing potential penalties against Kogan as well as Alexander Nix, the former chief executive of Cambridge Analytica.

However, Sky News notes that the £500,000 fine will be "pocket change" for a company valued a year ago at around $590bn (£445bn).

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".

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