Facebook finally pays ICO fine but accepts no liability

facebook 1Facebook has at last agreed to pay the £500,000 fine issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but only after a bizarre settlement in which it has made no admission of liability.

The ICO first issued the company with a “notice of intent” over the monetary penalty in July 2018 as part of its wide ranging investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. The move was criticised by some legal experts who claimed that Facebook had not had the chance to defend itself.

However, it issued the official penalty notice three months later, in October, but Facebook appealed against the fine.

In June this year the tribunal issued an interim decision “holding that procedural fairness and allegations of bias on the part of the ICO should be considered as part of the appeal, and that the ICO should be required to disclose materials relating to its decision-making process”.

Whether the ICO did not want this alleged bias to be aired in court is behind the settlement is not known, but nevertheless Facebook has managed to get the regulator to agree that it was not liable for the issue. The company has also been allowed to retain the documents disclosed by the ICO, in part because they may help it in its own investigation into Cambridge Analytica. That investigation had been paused at the ICO’s request.

ICO’s deputy commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone said: “The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our monetary penalty notice and agreement to pay the fine. The ICO’s main concern was that UK 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. We are pleased to hear that Facebook has taken, and will continue to take, significant steps to comply with the fundamental principles of data protection. With this strong commitment to protecting people’s personal information and privacy, we expect that Facebook will be able to move forward and learn from the events of this case.”

Harry Kinmonth, a lawyer representing Facebook, said: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement with the ICO. As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015. 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. However, we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the ICO’s wider and ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.”

The £500,000 penalty equates to about 18 minutes of profit for the firm.

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