Australia next up to issue data privacy fines against Facebook

Australia next up to issue data privacy fines against Facebook

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a dark cloud that never seems to go away for the social media company.

The Office of the
Australian Information Commissioner is suing Facebook over allegedly
exposing the private information of over 300,000 Australians in the
Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In the case lodged in
the federal court this week, Australia’s information watchdog
claims Facebook committed a serious breach of privacy. Personal data
from the advertising and social media giant was passed onto the This
is Your Digital Life app, and then onto Cambridge Analytica for
political profiling.

Among the information
grabbed by the app was people’s names, email addresses, dates of
birth, their city location, page likes and their friends lists.

Facebook could
technically be hit with a A$1.7m ($1.1m) fine for each Australian
affected by the breach under the country’s law, but the Commissioner
has not put an amount on what damages it thinks Facebook should pay.
Instead, it has called on the court to issue “civil pecuniary
penalties” under the Privacy Act “as applicable for
contraventions that occurred during the relevant period”.

In the UK, Facebook was
fined £500,000 for the breach, and in the US, the Federal Trade
Commission fined the firm $5bn.

A total of 87m Facebook
users across the world were affected by the Cambridge Analytica
scandal.

Australia’s Information
Commissioner Angelene Falk said all companies operating in Australia
had to be “transparent and accountable in the way they handle
personal information”.

She said: “We
consider the design of the Facebook platform meant that users were
unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their
personal information was disclosed. Facebook’s default settings
facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including
sensitive information, at the expense of privacy.”

The Commissioner also
accused Facebook of failing to take “reasonable steps” to protect
users as a result of “systemic failures to comply with Australian
privacy laws”.

When the global scandal broke in 2018, Facebook said 311,127 Australians had been affected between March 2014 and May 2015. However, the court documents show that only 53 people in Australia had actually installed the app used to collect their data in the first place.

The Office of the
Australian Information Commissioner court filing says Facebook’s
design meant users had no knowledge or control over how their data
was disclosed. It also says the firm has “been unable to provide
the Commissioner with a precise record” regarding which Australian
users were affected by the breach.

“Unless those
individuals undertook a complex process of modifying their settings
on Facebook, their personal information was disclosed by Facebook to
the This is Your Digital Life app by default,” the lawsuit reads.

Facebook said in
response to the Australian case: “We’ve made major changes to our
platforms, in consultation with international regulators, to restrict
the information available to app developers, implement new governance
protocols and build industry-leading controls to help people protect
and manage their data.

“We’re unable to
comment further as this is now before the federal court.”

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