As part of its investigation into whether personal information was misused ahead of the Brexit referendum, Britain’s data regulator said Wednesday it will fine Facebook half a million pounds for failing to protect user data.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) began investigating the social media giant earlier this year, when evidence emerged that an app had been used to harvest the data of tens of millions of Facebook users worldwide.
In the worst ever public relations disaster for the social media giant, Facebook admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which was working for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, which also had meetings with the Leave.EU campaign ahead of Britain’s EU referendum in 2016, denies the accusations and has filed for bankruptcy in the United States and Britain.
“In 2014 and 2015, the Facebook platform allowed an app… that ended up harvesting 87 million profiles of users around the world that was then used by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 presidential campaign and in the referendum,” Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, told BBC radio.
Wednesday’s ICO report said: “The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information.”
Without detailing how the information may have been used, it said the company had “failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others”.
The ICO added that it plans to issue Facebook with the maximum available fine for breaches of the Data Protection Act — an equivalent of $660,000 or 566,000 euros.
Because of the timing of the breaches, the ICO said it was unable to impose penalties that have since been introduced by the European General Data Protection, which would cap fines at 4.0 percent of Facebook’s global turnover.
In Facebook’s case this would amount to around $1.6 billion (1.4 billion euros).
“In the new regime, they would face a much higher fine,” Denham said.