Facebook is facing financial penalties in Australia and the UK following the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting controversy.
In Australia, a large law firm has signalled its intent to launch a class action on behalf of the 300,000 Australian Facebook users that were caught up in the data breach, while the UK privacy regulator is set to apply the maximum possible fine to the social media giant.
It was revealed earlier this year that a personality quiz on Facebook had harvested the data of those that used the app and their friends in 2015, and then passed on this information to UK-based political consulting company Cambridge Analytica.
The data was then used for targeting advertising during the Brexit campaign and 2016 US presidential election, among others.
About 87 million people around the world were impacted by the data breach; Australia was the 10th worst hit country in the world, with 300,000 people seeing their data collected and used.
Litigation funding company IMF Bentham has now announced its plans to launch a class action on behalf of these users, and has lodged a representative complaint with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
The complaint is seeking compensation from Facebook for alleged breaches of the Australian Privacy Principles, contained in the Privacy Act 1988.
“IMF Bentham and a leading Australian law firm have lodged a representative complaint with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner seeking, among other things, compensation for Facebook users arising from Facebook’s alleged breaches of the Australian Privacy Principles,” IMF Bentham said in a statement.
“The alleged breaches surround the circumstances in which a third party, Cambridge Analytica, gained unauthorised access to users’ profiles and information. The complaint seeks financial recompense for the unauthorised access to, and use of, their personal data.”
The publicly-listed company is now inviting any Australian Facebook users that were impacted by the breach to join the class action by registering online, with a deadline of 31 July.
IMF Bentham is offering a “no win - no pay” service for the class action, with complainants only paying for the legal work if the case is successful.
The Australian Information Commissioner is also conducting its own investigation into the data breach and whether Facebook has breached Australian privacy laws. The potential for the class action will depend on the commissioner’s final decision.
Under the local legislation, companies are required to take “reasonable” steps to ensure that personal information is held securely, and notify users about how it is being handled.
These actions come as the UK data watchdog has announced it intends to apply the maximum possible fine against Facebook due to its data handling.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has announced that it intends to fine Facebook nearly $900,000 (£500,000), the maximum allowed by law, for its failure to ensure the personality quiz app had deleted user data. It has ruled that Facebook breached its own rules and failed to ensure the data was properly deleted.
“The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information,” UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement.
“It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.”
Facebook will now have the opportunity to respond to the notice of intent before the information commission makes its final decision.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is also looking to pursue criminal action against Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, and is conducting a wider investigation into the buying of personal information by political parties.
“Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to affect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system,” Denham said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for the incident, saying it was a “breach of trust”.
“I’m sorry we didn't do more at the time,” Zuckerberg said earlier this year.
“We’re now taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I promise to do better for you.”