Facebook drops appeal against Cambridge Analytica fine

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Facebook has confirmed it will be paying a record fine in the UK concerning its involvement with Cambridge Analytica.

The social media giant revealed it has reached a settlement with the UK Information Commisioner's Office (ICO) concerning its alleged misuse and sale of user data, and will be dropping its appeal.

Facebook was fined £500,000 by the UK's data protection watchdog a year ago after the ICO said the company had allowed a "serious breach" of the law to take place.

Serious risk

However Facebook appealed against the punishment, arguing there was no evidence to suggest that any private user data was used by Cambridge Analytica or any affiliates to target voters in the build up to the 2016 Brexit vote.

The company has now said it will pay the fine in full, but will not need to admit any liability or wrongdoing about what happened.

“The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice (MPN) and agreement to pay the fine,” noted ICO deputy commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone.

“The ICO’s main concern was that U.K. citizen data was exposed to a serious risk of harm. Protection of personal information and personal privacy is of fundamental importance, not only for the rights of individuals, but also as we now know, for the preservation of a strong democracy.”

The fine was the maximum allowed by the ICO's own guidelines at the time, however if the investigation had taken place a few months later, after GDPR had come into force, the punishment for Facebook could have been much higher.

"As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015,” Facebook general counsel Harry Kinmonth noted. “We made major changes to our platform back then, significantly restricting the information which app developers could access. Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook, and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information." 

"The ICO has stated that it has not discovered evidence that the data of Facebook users in the EU was transferred to Cambridge Analytica by Dr Kogan.”

Users taking a personality quiz via an app on the site had their data collected by Facebook, but the company also recorded the public data of their friends - with around 87 million users thought to be affected despite only 305,000 users installing the quiz app. 

This data was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly then used it to psychologically profile US voters and target them with material to help Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum.

The news may only be a minor let-off for Facebook, as it could face further punishment in other nations where user data was compromised.

The company could face a fine of up to $5bn under plans from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has also been looking into the incident.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.