Facebook faces record fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook has been hit with a maximum possible fine for allowing political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest the information of millions of people without their consent.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) today announced that the social media giant will be fined £500,000 for breaching data protection laws.

The watchdog also announced plans to a bring a criminal action against Cambridge Analytica’s defunct parent company SCL Elections.  

Facebook “will get a chance to respond to the proposed penalties before the ICO releases a final decision”, Bloomberg reports.

It is the first financial penalty Facebook’s has faced since the data leak was revealed earlier this year.

More than 50 million Facebook users – including one million people in the UK – had data harvested by Cambridge Analytica without their consent.

The London-based firm worked for Donald Trump’s campaign team in the 2016 US presidential election and used the data to build a software program to predict and try to influence votes.

The information was gathered through an app that paid users to take a personality test but that also harvested details about their Facebook friends.

The fine “sends a clear signal that I consider this a significant issue, especially when you look at the scale and the impact of this kind of data breach,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

 “It’s an important moment for data protection,” she added. “Very few people had an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.”

The decision was welcomed by former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie. 

However, Sky News notes that the £500,000 fine will be “pocket change” for a company valued last year at around $590bn (£445bn).

“The scandal took place before new EU data protection laws that allow much larger fines came into force,” the broadcaster says.  

Facebook has said it will be reviewing the report and responding to the ICO soon.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” said Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. “We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries.”

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