Facebook has been hit with first fine for abuse of data on its platform. On Tuesday, UK watchdog Information Commissioner’s Office announced a preliminary fine of $664,000 for allowing Cambridge Analytica to improperly scrape data about millions of users. The watchdog has imposed the maximum fine applicable, and this opens door for governments and authorities around the world to follow suit.
The UK watchdog says Facebook lacked strong privacy protections and overlooked critical warning signs that might have helped prevent Cambridge Analytica from harvesting data of millions of people. The ICO particularly notes the work of Cambridge Analytica to manipulate public opinion for its clients including the withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union as part of Brexit in 2016.
The fine, announced yesterday, is the first such fine and could change as the agency discusses the matter with Facebook. The ICO generally does not reveal its initial findings but in the case of Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, the agency has done so in this case because of the public interest in the matter. The watchdog plans another update in this matter in October.
Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan acknowledged that the platform “should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015.”
Early this year, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica turned whistleblower and detailed how the big data firm based in UK used an app developer by Alexandr Kogan to harvest information of Facebook users. The app siphoned off user details of those who participated in the quiz and their friends as well. Facebook said it estimates 87 million people to have been affected by the data breach.
The findings by the ICO could lead to authorities investigating the company in Europe and US to take a more serious note of Facebook’s lack of strong privacy. The social media giant could face fine in the tune of hundreds of bilions of dollars in the probe by the US Federal Trade Commission. Facebook’s Egan says the company is reviewing the report and plans to respond soon.
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The probe by UK’s ICO looked not only at Facebook, but also the ecosystem of players totaling 172 organizations and 285 individuals, The Washington Post reports. “A significant finding of the ICO investigation is the conclusion that Facebook has not been sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign,” Elizabeth Denham, the British information commissioner, wrote in the report.
The British regulators fault Facebook for allowing Kogan to build an app that collected data of its users and their friends and share them with Cambridge Analytica. During the testimony in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the company allowed apps to collect user data until 2015 before implementing a major platform change.
The UK watchdog is still weighing potential penalties against Kogan as well as Alexander Nix, the former CEO of Cambridge Analytica. The key consideration of the report is the extent to which Facebook data was manipulated to support the vote to leave the EU. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL is facing criminal prosecutions in the UK.