Facebook lodges appeal against £500,000 Cambridge Analytica fine
Privacy rights advocates say social media group ‘should know when to stop digging and when to start taking responsibility’
Facebook argues that the penalty “challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online”. Photograph: Getty Images
The fine, the maximum amount allowable, was imposed by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office.
The social media giant, which had until Wednesday to launch an appeal or accept the fine, argues that the penalty “challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online”.
Facebook said its contesting of the fine did not mean it disputed that it made errors in the case of Cambridge Analytica, but ensured it had a chance to defend what it regarded as a point of principle in court.
In 2014 and 2015, an app developed by the academic Aleksander Kogan was allowed to access Facebook and ended up harvesting 87 million profiles of users around the world. This data was then used by Cambridge Analytica to target voters in the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Anna Benckert, the company’s associate general counsel in Europe, said in a statement: “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.”
Facebook argues that the core of the information commissioner’s office (ICO) enforcement is now broader than the simple questions raised in the Cambridge Analytica case, owing to the lack of harm to British citizens from that scandal.
“The ICO’s investigation stemmed from concerns that UK citizens’ data may have been impacted by Cambridge Analytica,” Ms Benckert said, “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.”
Ms Benckert argues that the same rationale that the ICO is using to fine the company would also mean that it would breach data protection guidelines “to forward an email or message without having agreement from each person on the original thread.
“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.”
Rachel Coldicutt, the head of the internet rights group doteveryone said Facebook had a responsibility to safeguard all users’ data, all the time.
“Whether or not this data was used to influence the outcome of the referendum is a red herring – and frankly, they should pay the fine and concentrate on looking like a mature, trustworthy business,” she said.
“Facebook has been in enough trouble for deflection recently; after the Definers story broke last week, they should know when to stop digging and when to start taking responsibility.”
An ICO spokesperson said: “Any organisation issued with a monetary penalty notice by the information commissioner has the right to appeal the decision to the first-tier tribunal. The progression of any appeal is a matter for the tribunal. We have not yet been notified by the tribunal that an appeal has been received.” – Guardian