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Australia sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data sharing

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Frederic Legrand - COMEO)

The Australian privacy watchdog has filed a lawsuit against Facebook over the alleged disclosure of user information to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The company is accused of breaching Australian privacy law by sharing the information of 311,127 users without their permission, for the purposes of political profiling.

User data was collected as part of a survey entitled ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ and included names, dates of birth, email addresses, location, page likes and even messages, depending on the level of permission granted to the application.

A single breach of data privacy law could result in a maximum penalty of AU$1.7 million, which would mean a total fine of AU$529 billion if the court were to issue the maximum fine for each count.

Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook stands accused of sharing the information of 87 million users globally with Cambridge Analytica via its survey tool.

In July, the social media giant was on the end of a record $5 billion fine from the US Federal Trade Commission after an investigation into its relationship with the consultancy.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), meanwhile, issued Facebook a £500,000 penalty for its involvement with Cambridge Analytica. This fine could have been much greater if the incident had taken place after GDPR came into effect in May 2018.

The company initially appealed the ICO fine on the grounds there was no evidence  user data was used to target Brexit referendum voters, but eventually withdrew from its position.

Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk believes Facebook’s product was crafted in such a way as to prevent users safeguarding their personal data.

“The design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed,” she said in a statement.

“All entities operating in Australia must be transparent and accountable in the way they handle personal information, in accordance with their obligations under Australian privacy law.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook spokeswoman explained the company had cooperated to the greatest possible extent with the Australian watchdog.

“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,” she added.

Via Reuters