Facebook is facing a possible class action lawsuit in Australia and small fines in the UK, as the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal continues.

First to the UK where Britain’s privacy watchdog has announced it plans to fine Facebook  £500,000 for failing to keep its users’ information safe.

That’s the maximum penalty for two breaches of the 1998 Data Protection Act.

The UK investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns began in May 2017, but the focus shifted to the social media network in February this year when it emerged the data of 87 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation concluded that Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information”. It also found the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.

According to The Guardian, Facebook generated £500,000 in revenue every five and a half minutes in the first quarter of 2018. Because the Cambridge Analytica breach occurred in 2014 the ICO is unable to enforce the much tougher penalties introduced by GDPR in May this year, which caps fines at €20 milion or 4 per cent of global revenue.

Facebook will have the chance to respond to the Commissioner before a final decision is made.

Facebook’s chief privacy Officer, Erin Egan, told the Guardian: “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries. We’re reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”

The ICO investigation is more broadly examining the influence of analytics digital marketing tactics on elections.

“We are at a crossroads. Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.”

Class Action Threat

More than 310,000 Australians were caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which is also being investigated by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

In response, litigation funder IMF Bentham is inviting those Australians who were affected to join a class action on a “no win, no pay” basis by July 31.

Yesterday the IMF Bentham released a statement saying it had lodged a representative complaint with the OAIC seeking “compensation for Facebook users arising from Facebook’s alleged breaches of the Australian Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act 1988.”

“The alleged breaches surround the circumstances in which a third party, Cambridge Analytica, gained unauthorised access to users’ profiles and information. The complaint seeks financial recompense for the unauthorised access to, and use of, their personal data,” the IMF Bentham statement said.

A class action lawsuit could be launched depending on the OAIC response.

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