Facebook appeals £500,000 Cambridge Analytica fine

Facebook is appealing against the £500,000 imposed on the company by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The basis of Facebook’s appeal is that the regulator found no evidence that UK users personal data had been shared inappropriately. Facebook lodged the appeal yesterday, the last day on which it could do so.

The saga centres on a personality quiz app developed by Cambridge University academic Dr Aleksander Kogan, which was used to harvest the profiles of up to 87m Facebook users globally. Cambridge Analytica subsequently used the data to target voters in the 2016 US presidential campaign. In April of this year, the BBC said it had been told that 1.1m of the profiles related to UK users.

In fact, an investigation by the ICO found no evidence that UK users’ profiles were among those harvested. Despite this, it issue Facebook with the fine on the basis that its UK users had been put at risk, and that Facebook had not done enough to prevent the data leak.

When issuing the fine in October, ICO Elisabeth Denman said: “Facebook failed to sufficiently protect the privacy of its users before, during and after the unlawful processing of this data. A company of its size and expertise should have known better and it should have done better.”

In a statement, Facebook’s associate general counsel in Europe, Anna Benckert, admitted that the company could have done more, but challenged the basis on which the fine had been levied. She said: “We have said before that we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015. We made major changes to our platform back then and have also significantly restricted the information app developers can access. And we are investigating all historic apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform policies in 2014.

“The ICO’s investigation stemmed from concerns that UK citizens’ data may have been impacted by Cambridge Analytica. Yet they now have confirmed that they have found no evidence to suggest that information of Facebook users in the UK was ever shared by Dr Kogan with Cambridge Analytica, or used by its affiliates in the Brexit referendum.

“Therefore, the core of the ICO’s argument no longer relates to the events involving Cambridge Analytica. Instead, their reasoning challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online, with implications which go far beyond just Facebook, which is why we have chosen to appeal.

“These are things done by millions of people every day on services across the internet, which is why we believe the ICO’s decision raises important questions of principle for everyone online, which should be considered by an impartial court based on all the relevant evidence.”

Facebook’s appeal will be heard by a General Regulatory Chamber tribunal, an independent body.

Rachel Aldighieri, MD of marketing trade body the DMA, said there’s more to the Cambridge Analytica scandal than the fine.

“It is important for both businesses and consumers to have clarity, transparency and consistency in regulators’ investigative processes,” she said. “This will ensure businesses are clear about what is expected of them and create a consistent standard for responsible marketing that consumers can trust.

“The risks of non-compliance go far beyond the fines the ICO can issue. The long-term effects on customer trust, share price and public perception could have lasting damage to a brand.”