Facebook faces $902,000 fine from UK privacy watchdog

LONDON • Facebook could be fined a symbolic £500,000 (S$902,000) by the UK's privacy regulator for breaches of data protection law after millions of users' data was improperly accessed by consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The fine is less than 10 minutes' worth of revenue for the social media firm worth US$590 billion (S$802 billion), but emphasises how regulators are finding fault in Facebook's business practices.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is threatening the social media giant with the maximum penalty allowed, it said yesterday when issuing its first findings in an investigation that looked at some 30 organisations, including social media platforms such as Facebook.

The US technology giant is accused of not properly protecting user data and not sharing how people's information was harvested by others. In its report, the ICO also said several overseas regulators and agencies had requested updates to help move their own investigations forward.

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the fine "sends a clear signal that I consider this a significant issue, especially when you look at the scale and the impact of this kind of data breach".

The revelations that information belonging to as many as 87 million Facebook users and their friends may have been misused is a "game changer" in the world of data protection, Ms Denham said.

Her office is leading the European investigations into how such an amount of data could have ended up in the hands of a consulting firm that worked on Mr Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. Facebook will get a chance to respond to the proposed penalties before the ICO releases a final decision. The firm said it was reviewing the report.

UK lawmaker Damian Collins, head of a Parliament committee investigating the impact of social media on recent elections, said Facebook needs to be more transparent.

"Given that the ICO is saying that Facebook broke the law, it is essential that we now know which other apps that ran on their platform may have scraped data in a similar way," Mr Collins said in a statement. "This cannot be left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook faces $902,000 fine from UK privacy watchdog'. Print Edition | Subscribe