Facebook has been been fined for the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica, which broke the law. I can almost hear the echoing laughter around Silicon Valley from my house.
The fine is for two breaches of the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded that Facebook failed to safeguard its users’ information and that it failed to be transparent about how that data was harvested by others. Facebook breached its own rules and failed to make sure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the harvested personal data.
Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said “Facebook has failed to provide the kind of protections they are required to under the Data Protection Act. Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”
Kyle Taylor, director of campaigning group Fair Vote UK said “Under new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws, the ICO could fine Facebook £479m.
“Unfortunately, because they had to follow old data protection laws, they were only able to fine them the maximum of £500,000. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Denham said “this is not all about fines,” adding that companies were also worried about their reputation.
She said the impact of behavioural advertising, when it came to elections, was “significant” and called for a code of practice to “fix the system”.
The fine was issued along with scathing report from the ICO, which issued the maximum fine allowable under old data protection laws – £500,000. The social network was accused of failing to protect user data and failing to be transparent about how it shared information with third parties.
The ICO investigation also highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without consent. It was announced that the ICO is expanding its 14-month investigation into data and politics, which has centred on the Facebook data leak, into whether Arron Banks, a major donor to the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, improperly gave pro-Brexit groups data about voters obtained for insurance purposes.
The ICO is also investigating whether Banks’ Eldon Insurance Limited’s call-centre staff used customer databases to make calls on behalf of Leave.EU. The official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is also being investigated over how it collected and shared personal information.
The ICO opened its inquiry in May 2017 “to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns”. Elizabeth Denham, said the ICO had been “astounded” by the amount of personal data in the possession of Britain’s political parties. (See The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, which details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election. I sent the ICO a copy).
It’s understood that the ICO sent warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree audits of data protection practices, and started a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections – parent company of Cambridge Analytica, after accusing the company of failing to deal properly with a data request.
SCL Elections declared bankruptcy in May, two months after the Observer reported that 50m Facebook profiles had been obtained. Denham said the ICO was examining whether the company’s directors could be still be pursued now that SCL Elections had been placed into administration.
The investigation also found that Aggregate IQ, a Canadian electoral services company, had “significant links” to Cambridge Analytica, Denham said, and “may still retain” data about UK voters; the ICO has filed an enforcement notice against the company to stop processing that data.
Facebook had sought to draw a line under the data privacy scandal after revelations that it allowed data from up to 87m US voters to be harvested and then passed to Cambridge Analytica, a company employed in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
Denham said: “We think they broke the principle of fair processing; we think it was unfair processing. Data controllers are supposed to have reasonable safeguards in place to process data and we felt they were deficient in that and in their response on questions and follow up about the data leak.”
“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time. To sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.
“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.
“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”
He said: “This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook.
“If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.”
“We were significantly concerned around the nature of the data that the political parties had access to,” said Steve Wood, the deputy information commissioner, “and we followed the trail to look at the different data brokers who were supplying the political parties.
Responding to the ICO report, Christopher Wylie said: “Months ago, I reported Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the UK authorities.
“Based on that evidence, Facebook is today being issued with the maximum fine allowed under British law.
“Cambridge Analytica, including possibly its directors, will be criminally prosecuted.”
The ICO intends to carry out an audit of the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. The department carries out its own research into social media profiles. The ICO said it had been told of an alleged security breach involving one of the centre’s apps and had additional concerns about its data protection efforts.
The watchdog also calls for the government to introduce a code of practice limiting how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.
They will also make an effort to ensure ex-staff from SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica do not illegally use materials obtained from the business before its collapse
The ICO said it is expected that the next stage of its investigation to be complete by the end of October.
The problem of data mining and psychographic profiling far exceed the revelations about the wrong doings of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Psychological manipulation of citizens by both corporate entities and governments is now the norm.
The moment that we accept that it is legitimate for governments to ‘influence citizen decision-making’ and impose a ‘behavioural change’ agenda on a non-suspecting, non-consenting public, it becomes a slippery slope from there into a cesspit of private vested interests, one-party states, corporatocracy, tyranny and ultimately, to totalitarian forms of governance.
The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal is the first ‘case study’. It’s a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. Mass surveillance, data profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination.
The political integrity and the future of democratic sovereignty has been seriously undermined because of the fundamental erosion of citizens’ right to self determination. Power imbalances are being created, recreated and amplified via the non-transparency of corporate and political practices, aimed at surveillance, data collection, psychological profiling and psychologically tailored messages, aimed at manipulating citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours, which serves to ultimately profoundly limit the choices available to them.
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