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Facebook to receive small £500,000 fine for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook will be fined £500,000 by the Information Commissioner over its role in the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal that erupted earlier this year.

Elizabeth Denham accused the company of breaching data protection regulations as her office investigates how millions of users’ data was improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

In March 2017, the Information Commissioner’s Office began looking into whether personal data had been misused by campaigns on both sides of the referendum on membership of the EU.

Facebook, with Cambridge Analytica, has been the focus of the investigation since February when evidence emerged that an app had been used to harvest the data of 50 million Facebook users across the world. This total was later revised to an estimated 87 million. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced questioning by US and EU lawmakers over how the data analytics firm improperly got hold of the troves of personal data.

While the £500,000 figure is a small fine for a company with a market value of $590bn, it is the maximum amount allowed under regulations.

Denham said that Facebook had broken the law by failing to safeguard people’s information and had not been transparent about how data was harvested by others on its platform.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law,” she said in a statement.

Facebook can respond to the commissioner before a final decision is made, and said it was reviewing the report and would respond soon.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said in a statement.

“We have been working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries.”

British lawmakers have launched an inquiry into “fake news” and its effect on election campaigns, and have increasingly focused on Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump in 2016, has denied its work on the US President’s successful election campaign made use of data.

It has also said that, while it pitched for work with campaign group Leave.EU ahead of the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016, it did not end up doing any work on the campaign.

However, the Information Commissioner’s report said other regulatory action would include a criminal prosecution against Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm, SCL Elections, for failing to deal with the regulator’s enforcement notice.

It also said it would send warning letters to 11 political parties to compel them to audit their data protection practices.

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