Facebook appeals £500,000 penalty over Cambridge Analytica scandal

The fine, imposed by the ICO, was the maximum permitted under old data protection laws.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Facebook has appealed a ruling and £500,000 fine imposed by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, claiming that the penalty is not justified.

The fine was imposed in October. Facebook was ordered to pay due to its role in facilitating the improper sharing of data belonging to up to 87 million users by failing to impose access restrictions and checks.

A quiz app released by Cambridge Analytica harvested the information from users as well as their friends. The information was then used for voter profiling.

The ICO said Facebook permitted the "unfair" data sharing to take place without the "clear and informed consent" of users.

At the time, the ICO said the fine was final, In return, a Facebook spokesperson told ZDNet that the company "respectfully disagreed" with the UK watchdog, but added that "we have said before that we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action."

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The penalty in question, £500,000, is the maximum permitted under the UK's Data Protection Act 1998. However, any data breach which takes place after May 25, 2018, will be investigated under the new EU's General Data Protection Regulation -- in which fines can be imposed of €20 million or four percent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

Being issued a penalty under the old laws worked in Facebook's favor and the company could have been forgiven for simply paying the fine and laying the Cambridge Analytica scandal to rest.

However, the company believes that as the ICO found no evidence that UK user data was shared without consent, the fine is unjustified -- despite these users still being put at risk by Facebook's inaction to tackle the Cambridge Analytica situation quickly.

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Originally, it was believed that information belonging to at least one million UK users had been shared without consent.

Facebook has appealed the ruling. The social media giant's lawyer, VP & Associate General Counsel, EMEAAnna Benckert told ZDNet:

"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 [...]

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."

The lawyer added that "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," and as information is shared in these ways by millions every day online, the ICO's ruling "raises important questions of principle for everyone online which should be considered by an impartial court."

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The independent General Regulatory Chamber tribunal will oversee the challenge. If Facebook is unsatisfied with the tribunal's decision, the case may be heard at the Court of Appeal.

"Any organization issued with a monetary penalty notice by the information commissioner has the right to appeal the decision to the first-tier tribunal," an ICO spokesperson said. "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."

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