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Facebook appeals Cambridge Analytica fine

November 22, 2018

Facebook has appealed against a fine imposed on it by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data watchdog, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The social media giant believes that because the regulator found no evidence that UK users’ personal data had been shared inappropriately, the £500,000 penalty was too harsh and ultimately unjustified.

Last month, the watchdog said Facebook’s failure to make suitable checks on apps and developers amounted to a “serious breach of the law”. It has acknowledged the appeal.

The saga orginated from the discovery that an academic at the University of Cambridge – namely Dr Aleksandr Kogan – used a personality quiz to harvest up to 87 million Facebook users’ details.

Some of this was subsequently shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which used it to target political advertising in the US. Over UK-based users were believed to have had their details exposed.

But Cambridge Analytica said it had only ever licensed data belonging to about 30 million people, and a probe by the ICO found no evidence that UK citizens were among them.

Even so, the ICO imposed the maximum penalty possible on Facebook on the basis that UK members had been put at risk and the tech firm had not done enough to address this after learning of the problem.

“The ICO’s investigation stemmed from concerns that UK citizens’ data may have been impacted by Cambridge Analytica, yet they now have confirmed that they have found no evidence to suggest that information of Facebook users in the UK was ever shared by Dr Kogan with Cambridge Analytica, or used by its affiliates in the Brexit referendum,” said a statement from Facebook’s lawyer Anna Benckert.

“Therefore, the core of the ICO’s argument no longer relates to the events involving Cambridge Analytica. Instead, their reasoning challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online, with implications which go far beyond just Facebook, which is why we have chosen to appeal. For example, under the ICO’s theory people should not be allowed to forward an email or message without having agreement from each person on the original thread. These are things done by millions of people every day on services across the internet, which is why we believe the ICO’s decision raises important questions of principle for everyone online which should be considered by an impartial court based on all the relevant evidence.”

An independent body, known as a General Regulatory Chamber tribunal, will consider the challenge.

If it is unhappy with the decision, Facebook could also take the case to the Court of Appeal.

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