Facebook Has Appealed its Paltry Cambridge Analytica Fine, Insisting it Was 'Unjustified'

By Tom Pritchard on at

Most of you will remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal. That thing that happened after it was discovered a Facebook app had abused the system and pulled data from user profiles without permission - simply because one of their friends had. That data was then sold onto political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, where it was alleged to have been used for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

We know all this because Facebook ended up in deep shit, relatively speaking, because of it, with Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of the EU parliament and US congress. It also led to the Information Comissioner's Office slapping the company with a fine, the maximum allowed under pre-GDPR legislation. £500,000 may seem like a lot of money, but it's pathetically small considering Facebook was effectively earning that much every seven minutes during Q1 2018. Regardless of the paltry amount, Facebook has decided it's going to appeal the fine anyway.

Here's what Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said when the fine was issued at the end of last month.

"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."

Later adding:

"We considered these contraventions to be so serious we imposed the maximum penalty under the previous legislation. The fine would inevitably have been significantly higher under the GDPR. One of our main motivations for taking enforcement action is to drive meaningful change in how organisations handle people’s personal data.

Our work is continuing. There are still bigger questions to be asked and broader conversations to be had about how technology and democracy interact and whether the legal, ethical and regulatory frameworks we have in place are adequate to protect the principles on which our society is based.”

At the time Facebook's official statement pointed out that the ICO had "found no evidence to suggest UK Facebook users’ data was in fact shared with Cambridge Analytica." That's why it's appealing the decision. Not because the user data of roughly 1.1 million UK users was compromised the way that it was, but because there's no evidence the data was sold on or misused. According to the BBC Facebook's main concern is that the ruling will set a precedent for how other regulators will react to the decision.

My guess is that someone in Facebook legal probably decided that not appealing would look like an admission of guilt. Considering some of the ways it's already tried to weasel out of being held responsible for the scandal, it wouldn't be surprising if that actually happened.

Facebook's lawyer Anna Benckert released a statement saying:

"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.

For example, under the ICO's theory people should not be allowed 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."

Now we just have to wait for the appeals process to slowly work towards its conclusion. Appeals, appeals of appeals, until the years pass by and the situation reaches the highest possible level. At which point Facebook will have failed to act on a bunch more things, and loudly proclaim that it isn't actually its fault. All while Mark Zuckerberg does his best to ignore the increasing number of governments demanding he speak to them in person, and not send his lackeys. [BBC News]