Face­book faces UK fine over its data pri­vacy scan­dal

Yuma Sun - - OPINION -

LON­DON — Face­book is fac­ing its first fi­nan­cial penalty for al­low­ing the po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy Cam­bridge Analytica to for­age through the per­sonal data of mil­lions of un­know­ing Face­book users.

The so­cial me­dia giant faces a 500,000-pound ($663,000) fine for fail­ing to pro­tect the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of its sub­scribers fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Cam­bridge Analytica data har­vest­ing scan­dal by the U.K. In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice.

The pro­posed fine an­nounced Wednes­day is the max­i­mum pos­si­ble for the scan­dal, which first broke in March. While the penalty is small for Face­book, it is a warn­ing shot for com­pa­nies that now face fines of up to 2 per­cent of global rev­enue un­der Euro­pean Union data pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions rolled out later, in May.

The an­nounce­ment came af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cam­bridge Analytica, which de­clared bank­ruptcy this year fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that it used per­sonal in­for­ma­tion har­vested from 87 mil­lion Face­book ac­counts to help Don­ald Trump win the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The data al­legedly helped the Trump cam­paign tar­get po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing more ac­cu­rately by giv­ing them in­sight into what Amer­i­can Face­book users liked and dis­liked.

The ICO is also con­duct­ing a wider probe into the use of data an­a­lyt­ics by other po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

“Fines and pros­e­cu­tions pun­ish bad ac­tors, but my real goal is to ef­fect change and re­store trust and con- fi­dence in our demo­cratic sys­tem,” In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner El­iz­a­beth Den­ham said in a state­ment.

The penalty is a pit­tance for Face­book, which gen­er­ates that sum roughly ev­ery seven min­utes, based on its first-quar­ter rev­enue of $11.97 bil­lion. But it would rep­re­sent the first tan­gi­ble pun­ish­ment for the com­pany’s pri­vacy scan­dal, which tar­nished its rep­u­ta­tion, tem­po­rar­ily pushed down its shares and forced CEO Mark Zucker­berg to tes­tify be­fore Con­gress, but oth­er­wise led to few last­ing reper­cus­sions.

The ICO an­nounced its in­ten­tion to fine Face­book af­ter its in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that the com­pany failed to safe­guard users’ in­for­ma­tion and wasn’t trans­par­ent about how data was har­vested by third par­ties. Face­book will have the chance to re­spond to the find­ings be­fore the agency makes a fi­nal de­ci­sion on penal­ties.

Den­ham’s of­fice also pub­lished a progress re­port on the broader in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which in­cludes a rec­om­men­da­tion that the British govern­ment in­tro­duce a statu­tory code of prac­tice for the use of data in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

She called on po­lit­i­cal par­ties, on­line plat­forms and the pub­lic to pause and “re­flect on their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the era of big data.”

“We are at a cross­roads,” she said. “New tech­nolo­gies that use data an­a­lyt­ics to mi­cro-tar­get peo­ple give cam­paign groups the abil­ity to con­nect with in­di­vid­ual vot­ers. But this can­not be at the ex­pense of trans­parency, fair­ness and com­pli­ance with the law.”

Cam­bridge Analytica, a Lon­don firm fi­nanced by wealthy Repub­li­can donors, worked for the 2016 Trump cam­paign and for a while em­ployed Steve Ban­non, the CEO of Trump’s cam­paign 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, 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 didn’t in­form its users “about how their in­for­ma­tion was har­vested by oth­ers.”

Damian Collins, the chair­man of the U.K. Par­lia­ment’s me­dia com­mit­tee, said Wednes­day that the com­pany “should now make the re­sults of their in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions known to the ICO, our com­mit­tee and other rel­e­vant in­ves­ti­ga­tory au­thor­i­ties.”

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