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Facebook Faces First Fine in Data Scandal Involving Cambridge Analytica

Facebook Faces First Fine in Data Scandal Involving Cambridge Analytica

Facebook will be facing its first fine in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the social media platform allowed the data mining firm to access the private information of millions of users without their consent or knowledge.

A British government investigative office, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), fined Facebook 500,000 pounds, or $663,000 - the maximum amount that can be levied for the violation of British data privacy laws. In a report, the ICO found Facebook had broken the law in failing to protect the data of the estimated 87 million users affected by the security breach.

The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook "contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information," the report read. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others on its platform.

Cambridge Analytica, a London firm that shuttered its doors in May following a report by The New York Times and The Observer chronicling its dealings, offered “tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior,” according to a March Times report.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters,” Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement. “But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.”

President-elect Donald Trump gestures toward reporters as he arrives for a party at the home of Robert Mercer, one of his biggest campaign donors, Dec. 3, 2016, in Head of the Harbor, New York.
President-elect Donald Trump gestures toward reporters as he arrives for a party at the home of Robert Mercer, one of his biggest campaign donors, Dec. 3, 2016, in Head of the Harbor, New York.

The firm, which U.S. President Donald Trump employed during his successful 2016 election campaign, was heavily funded by American businessman Robert Mercer, who is also a major donor to the U.S. Republican Party. Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon was also employed by the firm and has said he coined the company's name.

Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower within the firm, told the Times in March that the firm aimed to create psychological profiles of American voters and use those profiles to target them via advertising.

“[Cambridge Analytica’s leaders] want to fight a culture war in America,” Wylie told the Times. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

While this is the first financial penalty Facebook will be facing in the scandal, the fine will not make a dent in the company’s profits. The social media giant generated $11.97 billion in revenue in the first quarter, and generates the revenue needed to pay the fine about every 10 minutes.

Denham said the company will have an opportunity to respond to the fine before a final decision is made. Facebook has said it will respond to the ICO report soon.

"As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action in 2015," said Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, in a statement. "We have been working closely with the Information Commissioner's Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the U.S. and other countries."

The statement from the ICO also announced that the office would seek to criminally prosecute SCL Elections Ltd., Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, for failing to comply with a legal request from a U.S. professor to disclose what data the company had on him. SCL Elections also shut down in May.

"Your data is yours and you have a right to control its use," wrote David Carroll, the professor.

The ICO said it would also be asking 11 political parties to conduct audits of their data protection processes, and compel SCL Elections to comply with Carroll’s request.

Further investigations by agencies such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, and Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC, are under way. In April, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before a U.S. Senate committee to testify on the company’s actions in the scandal.

“We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” Zuckerberg told U.S. lawmakers in prepared remarks in April. He also said, "It was my mistake, and I’m sorry."

(VOA)

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