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British regulator to slap fine on Facebook over data breach

By Sheetal Sukhija, The London News
12 Jul 2018, 05:47 GMT+10

LONDON, U.K. - Alleging that Facebook broke the law by failing to safeguard people's information, Britain's information regulator has indicated that the social media giant would now face huge fines.

In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the British regulator has alleged that Facebook was not transparent about how data was harvested by others on its platform.

The regulator has said that she intends to fine Facebook for breaches of data protection law as her office investigates how millions of users' data was improperly accessed by consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Britain's Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has shared the update on her investigation into the use of data analytics by political campaigns and said on Wednesday that she intended to fine Facebook $663,850 (500,000 pounds).

While the fine amount is a small figure for Facebook, which boasts of a market value of $590 billion, it is the maximum amount allowed in such a case in the U.K.

Denham said in a statement, “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.”

Ever since the scandal broke earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come under intense pressure and has even issued a public apology.

Zuckerberg has also faced questioning by lawmakers in the U.S. and EU over how Cambridge Analytica improperly got hold of the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher.

Further, after details of the scandal first came to light, British lawmakers have launched an inquiry into "fake news" and its effect on election campaigns.

They have also increasingly focused on Cambridge Analytica, which was revealed to have been hired by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

The company has said that it had pitched for work with campaign group Leave.EU ahead of the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016, but that it did not end up doing any work on the campaign.

Now, reports note that in the face of fines in the U.K., Facebook can respond to the commissioner before a final decision is made.

Following the British regulator’s announcement, Facebook has said that it was reviewing the report and would respond soon.

Erin Egan, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer, said in a statement, "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 Information Commissioner's Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the U.S. and other countries."

Meanwhile, the Information Commissioner's report has pointed out that any regulatory action would include a criminal prosecution against Cambridge Analytica's parent firm, SCL Elections, for failing to deal with the regulator's enforcement notice.

The British regulator is now sending warning letters to 11 political parties to compel them to audit their data protection practices.

The Information Commission has raised concerns about political parties buying personal information from "data brokers,” and has specifically named one company used by the Labour Party, Emma's Diary, which gives medical advice and free baby-themed products to parents.

Further, it has said that another company called Aggregate IQ - which worked with the Vote Leave campaign in the run up to the EU Referendum - must stop processing U.K. citizens' data.

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