Facebook coughs up £500k Cambridge Analytica fine

October 31, 2019 | 10:45

Tags: #advertising #fine #harry-kinmonth #james-dipple-johnstone #social-networking

Companies: #facebook #information-commissioners-office

The Information Commissioner's Office has confirmed that Facebook has dropped its appeal against a paltry £500,000 fine for the company's part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal - but Facebook still maintains its innocence.

Facebook came under fire back in March last year when whistleblower Christopher Wylie disclosed what he called the '[then-chair of right-wing political news network Brietbart] Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool': Psychological profiles of 230 million Americans and other nationals built from data illicitly obtained from Facebook using a supposed personality test application.

'We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles,' Wylie told The Guardian at the time. 'And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company [Cambridge Analytica] was built on.'

Following concerns the data had been used to exert undue influence over the outcomes of elections, including the US presidential election which placed Donald Trump in office and the UK referendum which has led to a complete failure to even reach an agreement on how to leave the European Union as somewhat rashly promised three Prime Ministers ago, the Information Commissioner's Office investigated and levied a £500,000 fine - the highest allowable under the Data Protection Act (DPA) which was in force at the time, and a tiny fraction of what Facebook could have been facing under the newer pan-European General Data Protection.

Despite the figure amounting to roughly 0.0025 percent of the company's pre-tax annual turnover - or around the same amount of money the company pulls in in just under 800 seconds, to put it another way - Facebook appealed the fine, but has now dropped said appeal with the understanding that it will pay the penalty without admitting culpability.

'We are pleased to have reached a settlement with the ICO. As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015,' Facebook associate general counsel Harry Kinmonth claims. 'We made major changes to our platform back then, significantly restricting the information which app developers could access. 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. The ICO has stated that it has not discovered evidence that the data of Facebook users in the EU was transferred to Cambridge Analytica by Dr Kogan. However, we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the ICO’s wider and ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.'

'The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice and agreement to pay the fine,' adds ICO deputy commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone. 'The ICO’s main concern was that UK 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. We are pleased to hear that Facebook has taken, and will continue to take, significant steps to comply with the fundamental principles of data protection. With this strong commitment to protecting people’s personal information and privacy, we expect that Facebook will be able to move forward and learn from the events of this case.'

The news comes as Facebook faces increasing focus over the political advertising it allows on its platform, which rival social network Twitter has used to its advantage by announcing a total ban on political advertising on its own platform.

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