Six years after the personal data of 87 million users was harvested and later shared without user consent with Cambridge Analytica, Australia’s privacy watchdog is suing Facebook for an incredible £266bn over the harvested data of its citizens.
From March 2014 to 2015 the ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ app, created by British academic, Aleksander Kogan and downloaded by 270,000 people which then provided access to their own and their friends’ personal data too, was able to harvest data from Facebook.
The harvested data was then shared with (sold to) data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, in order to build a software program that could predict and use personalised political adverts (political profiling) to influence choices at the ballot box in the last U.S. election, and for the Leave campaign in the UK Brexit referendum.
The lawsuit, brought by the Australian Information Commissioner against Facebook Inc alleges that, through the app, the personal and sensitive information of 311,127 Australian Facebook Users (Affected Australian Individuals) was disclosed and their privacy was interfered with. Also, the lawsuit alleges that Facebook did not adequately inform those Australians of the manner in which their personal information would be disclosed, or that it could be disclosed to an app installed by a friend, but not installed by that individual. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Facebook failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure.
In the lawsuit, the Australian Information Commissioner, therefore, alleges that the Australian Privacy Principle (APP) 6 has been breached (disclosing personal information for a purpose other than that for which it was collected), as has APP 11 (failing to take reasonable steps to protect the personal information from unauthorised disclosure). Also, the Australian Information Commissioner alleges that these breaches are in contravention of section 13G of the Privacy Act 1988.
The massive potential fine of £266 billion has been arrived at by multiplying the maximum of $1,700,000 (£870,000) for each contravention of the Privacy Act by the 311,127 Australian Facebook Users (Affected Australian Individuals).
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Back in July 2018, 16 months after the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) began its investigation into the Facebook’s sharing the personal details of users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the UK’s ICO announced that Facebook would be fined £500,000 for data breaches. This Australian lawsuit, should it not go Facebook’s way, represents another in a series of such lawsuits over the same scandal, but the £266 billion figure would be a massive hit and would, for example, totally dwarf the biggest settlement to date against Facebook of $5 billion to the US Federal Trade Commission over privacy matters. To put it in even greater perspective, an eye-watering potential fine of £266 billion would make the biggest GDPR fine to date of £183 million to British Airways look insignificant.
Clearly, this is another very serious case for Facebook to focus its attention on, but the whole matter highlights just how important data security and privacy matters are now taken and how they have been included in different national laws with very serious penalties for non-compliance attached. Facebook has tried hard since the scandal to introduce and publicise many new features and aspects of its service that could help to regain the trust of users in both its platform’s safeguarding of their details and in the area of stopping fake news from being distributed via its platform. This announcement by the Australian Information Commissioner is, therefore, likely to be an extremely painful reminder of a regrettable and period in the tech giant’s history, not to mention it being a potential threat to Facebook.
For those whose data may have been disclosed, shared and used in a way that contravened Australia’s laws, they may be pleased that their country is taking such a strong stance in protecting their interests and this may send a very powerful message to other companies that store and manage the data of Australian citizens.