The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has upheld a symbolic £500,000 fine it handed to Facebook in July. The fine was issued to Facebook in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, concerning harvesting users’ data.

The ICO stated in its notice of penalty that data from at least one million British users was unfairly processed and Facebook had failed to take appropriate technical and organisational measures against it. The fine is the maximum amount allowed under the Data Protection Act 1998.

In a statement a Facebook spokesperson said: “We are grateful that the ICO has acknowledged our full cooperation throughout their investigation, and have also confirmed they have found no evidence to suggest UK Facebook users’ data was in fact shared with Cambridge Analytica”.

The fine was handed down to Facebook for offences that happened before the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules came into effect in May. The GDPR law’s gives all EU and member states citizens more control over their personal data. If it had it been in effect after the data was shared the Cambridge Analytica, it could have been fined £20 million or 4 percent of Facebook’s global annual revenue, whichever is higher, and this could of left Facebook with an even higher bill. In 2017 Facebook’s annual revenue was just shy of $40 Billion. 4 % of this is $1.6 Billion. So it is in Facebook’s best interest to fully comply with GDPR if it still wants to continue operating within the EU.

What was the Cambridge Analytica Scandal?

The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political scandal in early 2018, when it was revealed Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It has been described as an enlightening moment in the public understanding of personal data and caused a massive $100 Billion fall in Facebook’s stock price and calls for tighter regulation of tech companies’ use of data.

The illicit harvesting of personal data by Cambridge Analytica was first reported in December 2015 by Harry Davies, a journalist for The Guardian. He reported that Cambridge Analytica was working for a United States Senator, using data harvested from millions of people’s Facebook accounts without their consent. Facebook refused to comment on the story other than to say it was investigating. Following numerous expose articles, and massive public outcry, Mark Zuckerburg apologised for the situation with Cambridge Analytica, calling it an “issue”, a “mistake” and a “breach of trust“.

The scandal forced a discussion on ethical standards for social media companies, political consulting organisations, and politicians. Consumer advocates called for greater consumer protection in online media and right to privacy as well as curbs on misinformation and propaganda.


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