Facebook has ended its appeal against the UK Information Commissioner's Office and will pay the outstanding £500,000 fine for breaches of data protection law relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Prior to today's announcement, the social network had been appealing against the fine, alleging bias and requesting access to ICO documents related to the regulator's decision making. The ICO, in turn, was appealing a decision that it should hand over these documents.
The issue for the watchdog was the misuse of UK citizens' Facebook profile information, specifically the harvesting and subsequent sale of data scraped from their profiles to Cambridge Analytica, the controversial British consulting firm used by US prez Donald Trump's election campaign.
The app that collected the data was "thisisyourdigitallife", created by Cambridge developer Aleksandr Kogan. It hoovered up Facebook users' profiles, dates of birth, current city, photos in which those users were tagged, pages they had liked, posts on their timeline, friends' lists, email addresses and the content of Facebook messages. The data was then processed in order to create a personality profile of the user.
"Given the way our platform worked at the time," Zuck has said, "this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends' data". Facebook has always claimed it learned of the data misuse from news reports, though this has been disputed.
Both sides will now end the legal fight and Facebook will pay the ICO a fine but make no admission of liability or guilt. The money is not kept by the data protection watchdog but goes to the Treasury consolidated fund and both sides will pay their own costs. The ICO spent an eye-watering £2.5m on the Facebook probe.
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Facebook can also keep documents handed over the ICO, which it claims will help restart its investigation into Cambridge Analytica – parts of which had been put on hold on ICO instructions.
The agreement centres on Facebook's action in handing UK citizens' data to Cambridge Analytica and the ICO's larger investigation into the misuse of private data for political purposes. This also saw campaign group Leave.eu fined a total of £60,000 for data offences.
Deputy commissioner of the ICO James Dipple-Johnstone said: "The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice and agreement to pay the fine. The ICO's main concern was that UK 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."
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In October 2018 the ICO imposed a fine of £500,000 on Facebook, which equates to about 17 minutes' profit for the firm – the maximum possible fine because the offences occurred between 2013 and 2015. Under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) brought in last year, however, Facebook could be fined 4 per cent of its $56bn global turnover.
ICO commissioner Elizabeth Denham has previously defended the massive spending on the Facebook investigation as giving the watchdog ammunition to go to government and get stronger enforcement powers. ®