Social media giant, Facebook, and the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reached a settlement which withdraws the appeal on the fine imposed by the ICO to the former for its role in the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal. The investigation focused on the role of Facebook in the unethical harvesting of users’ personal information in the social media platform to be used to manipulate the results of the 2016 European Union (EU) membership referendum.
The settlement agreement, which was announced today, reveals that Facebook is agreeing to pay a fine of £500,000 ($644,000) without the company admitting culpability to the scraping of user data. Following an investigation that started since 2017, the ICO has imposed the fine on Facebook for its failure to protect user data from the illegal and unethical use of Cambridge Analytica, a London-based PR firm, for political campaigns.
Ever since, Facebook has denied responsibility for the misuse of personal data of Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica. The Silicon Valley company argues that even the ICO admitted that there is no evidence that could link to the usage of Facebook user data as used by Cambridge Analytica or any affiliates to target voters in the build-up to the Brexit vote.
As a response, the ICO argued that whether or not the data of Facebook was misused by Cambridge Analytica is trying to manipulate public opinion ahead of the Brexit referendum; the social media network has still failed in protecting their users’ data which puts them at great risks. The ICO further added that even after knowledge of the operations of the infamous PR firm, Facebook also did very little to mitigate the situation.
The ICO has imposed the fine in October last year, and by November, Facebook has announced its plan to appeal the decision. As announced today, the two entities entered into a settlement agreement that Facebook will be paying the fine without admitting to any liability over the scandal.
“The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice (MPN) and agrees to pay the fine,” said ICO deputy commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone. “The ICO’s main concern was that U.K. citizen data was exposed to a serious risk of harm. Protection of personal information and personal privacy is of fundamental importance, not only for the rights of individuals but also, as we now know, for the preservation of a strong democracy.”
Amidst the fact that Facebook has been paying the fines imposed by different regulators over its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company has been very aggressive in fighting against taking responsibility for it. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) in the United States also imposed a record-breaking $5 billion fine against Facebook over the scandal. Nonetheless, the settlement agreement between the tech giant and the FTC includes a provision that absolves all Facebook executives of any liability in the incident.
“As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015,” added Facebook general counsel Harry Kinmonth. “We made major changes to our platform back then, significantly restricting the information which app developers could access. Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook, and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information. The ICO has stated that it has not discovered evidence that the data of Facebook users in the EU was transferred to Cambridge Analytica by Dr. Kogan.”