Facebook Fined £500,000 Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

British data watchdog slaps Facebook with maximum possible fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook has been fined half a million pounds by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), over its role in the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

It comes after Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham published a detailed update of her office’s investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns

Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of a row over the alleged misuse of personal data on 87 million people, mostly in the US, and such as the scandal that the political consultancy was forced to shut down soon afterwards.

ICO probe

The ICO investigation began in March after the regulator raided the firm’s offices and seized its servers.

“Today’s progress report gives details of some of the organisations and individuals under investigation, as well as enforcement actions so far,” said the ICO. “This includes the ICO’s intention to fine Facebook a maximum £500,000 for two breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.”

Ever since 2010 the ICO has had the power to levy fines of up to half a million pounds, and it has hit some organisations with extremely stiff penalties over the years, but it has rarely imposed the maximum amount.

“The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information,” the ICO said. “It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.”

Facebook has a chance to respond to the Commissioner’s Notice of Intent, after which a final decision will be made.

Criminal prosecution

Meanwhile the ICO has sent out warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree to audits of their data protection practices.

It has also issued an Enforcement Notice for SCL Elections Ltd (the parent company of Cambridge Analytica) to compel it to deal properly with a subject access request from Professor David Carroll; and will pursue a criminal prosecution for SCL Elections Ltd for failing to properly deal with the ICO’s Enforcement Notice.

“We are at a crossroads,” explained Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “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.”

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

“Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system,” Denham said.

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