UK: Facebook charged maximum fine by information commissioner

Facebook was hit with a US$660,000 fine, the maximum allowed, by the British Information Commissioner’s Office over its data scandal with now-defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

According to a report in The New York Times, while the fine is small for Facebook, it marks the largest fine the British Information Commissioner’s Office has placed on a company. The government watchdog agency is tasked with enforcing the UK’s data protection laws.

The New York Times reported the agency has been looking into the data scandal in which Cambridge Analytica accessed the information on 87 million Facebook users without their consent since May of 2017. The political consulting firm did it as part of work on President Donald Trump’s successful election bid. Using the data, it was able to create profiles of American voters. The agency concluded that Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others,” reported The New York Times.

The fine marks the first action against Facebook since the scandal broke. The company faces several inquiries by lawmakers and regulators both in the UK and the US—Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has already appeared before Congress to discuss the scandal and has vowed to be more transparent about how the social network uses customers’ data and who it shares it with. In the US, the Securities Exchange Commission, Justice Department and FBI are looking into the scandal.

Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told the NYT in a written statement that it is working with the UK government agency and was in the process of reviewing the report. “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” Egan said in the statement to the NYT. While the Information Commissioner’s Office levied a fine against Facebook, it also said the investigation was ongoing and that it’s awaiting a response from Facebook. It said it also sent warning letters to 11 political parties urging them to agree to audits of their data practices, noted the report.

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