Meta loses Australian appeal of Cambridge Analytica data case, lawsuit to go ahead

Facebook's bid to throw out a Cambridge Analytica data lawsuit from Australia's privacy regulator falls flat.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

In a big win for Australia's privacy regulator, the Federal Court has dismissed Facebook's appellate claim that it neither conducts business nor collects personal information in Australia.

The dismissal means the Office of Australian Information Commissioner's (OAIC) lawsuit against Facebook, now Meta, can finally be heard in court after being stuck in court purgatory for almost two years.

The lawsuit had been held up as Meta attempted to have the case thrown out through submissions that it does not conduct business nor collect personal information in Australia, which are requirements for an entity to be sued under the country's privacy laws.

These submissions were rejected on Monday, however, with the Federal Court full bench labelling Meta's argument that Facebook platform merely acted as an overseas website that provides data to an Australian device when requested to do so as being "divorced from reality".

The full bench came to this conclusion as it found Meta's installation of cookies on the physical devices of Australian users was sufficient in meeting the threshold of conducting business and collecting personal information in Australia.

"The problems with this submission are first that it proves far too much, and secondly that it is, with respect, divorced from reality," Justice Nye Perram wrote in his judgment, which received the unanimous backing of the Federal Court full bench.

"What this case decides is only that an inference may be drawn that a firm which installs and removes cookies in Australia (and which also manages for Australian developers a credential system which is widely used in Australia) is carrying on its worldwide business of data processing in this country."

The full bench decision confirms an earlier decision made by Federal Court Judge Thomas Thawley that found Facebook does conduct business and collect personal information in Australia. In doing so, it dismisses Facebook's appeal.

The OAIC will now look to accuse Meta of breaching the privacy of over 300,000 Australians whose data were caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the data of millions of Facebook users harvested globally by consulting firm Cambridge Analytic without their consent through an app called This is Your Digital Life.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has seen widespread media coverage since 2018 due to the harvested data being used for political profiling for Donald Trump's 2016 election victory and the Brexit campaign.

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said she was pleased with the full bench judgment, and that her office would continue to move forward with the case.

Regulators around the world are gaining steam in their bids to hold Meta accountable, with the company being slapped with another fine by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority over the weekend for misconduct relating to its Giphy acquisition.

Outside of regulatory scrutiny, the tech giant also lost over a quarter of its value on Thursday, almost $240 million, in a week where it sold off its crypto foray Diemforecast a $10 billion hit from upcoming iOS changes, and received its first ever criminal charges.


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