Information Commissioner asks Zuckerberg to review appeal against £500,000 fine

Soon after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for new regulations across the world to prevent the spread of harmful content, to preserve the integrity of elections, and to frame new rules on privacy and data portability, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has advised Zuckerberg to review Facebook's appeal against the £500,000 fine issued to it by the ICO.

In July last year, the Information Commissioner's Office fined Facebook an exemplary £500,000 for failing to prevent a third-party app from harvesting personal details of millions of users without obtaining prior consent from such users.

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"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 is now estimated at 87 million.

"The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others," the watchdog said.

"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. Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system," said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

In November, Facebook decided to launch an appeal against the fine issued by the ICO, stating that none of the people affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal were based in the UK and therefore, the penalty imposed on Facebook did not make any sense.

"The ICO's investigation stemmed from concerns that UK citizens' data may have been impacted by Cambridge Analytica, yet they now have confirmed that they have found no evidence to suggest that information of Facebook users in the UK was ever shared by Dr Kogan with Cambridge Analytica, or used by its affiliates in the Brexit referendum," said Anna Benckert, Facebook's legal representative.

"Therefore, the core of the ICO's argument no longer relates to the events involving Cambridge Analytica. Instead, their reasoning challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online, with implications which go far beyond just Facebook, which is why we have chosen to appeal," she added.

According to BBC, Facebook's appeal is being heard and considered by a General Regulatory Chamber tribunal, and if Facebook is not satisfied by the decision of the tribunal, it may choose to approach the Court of Appeal.

ICO advises Zuckerberg to walk the talk

On March 30th, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, wrote an opinion piece for The Washingon Post in which he advocated for GDPR-like regulations across the globe that could prevent the spread of harmful content, preserve the integrity of elections, and provide new guidelines on privacy and data portability.

"I believe Facebook has a responsibility to help address these issues, and I’m looking forward to discussing them with lawmakers around the world. We’ve built advanced systems for finding harmful content, stopping election interference and making ads more transparent.

"But people shouldn’t have to rely on individual companies addressing these issues by themselves. We should have a broader debate about what we want as a society and how regulation can help. These four areas are important, but, of course, there’s more to discuss," he wrote.

Zuckerberg's piece came not long after Facebook was found allowing advertisers to look up users' profiles by typing in phone numbers, saving passwords of up to 600 million users in plain text that could be accessed by 20,000 internal employees, giving certain apps unprecedented and unrestricted access to user data, forcing through an integration of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to create detailed profiles of about every human being on the planet, and just before the company was found asking new users to provide their e-mail passwords.

Responding to Zuckerberg's opinion piece in which he staunchly advocated for data privacy, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that if Zuckerberg is really serious about more regulation on the Internet around privacy, he should consider withdrawing the appeal that Facebook filed in November against the £500,000 fine issued by the ICO.

"In light of Mark Zuckerberg’s statements over the weekend about the need for increased regulation across four areas, including privacy, I expect Facebook to review their current appeal against the ICO’s £500,000 fine - the maximum available under the old rules — for contravening UK privacy laws," she said.

We are awaiting Mr. Zuckerberg's response to Ms. Denham's advice. However, considering that he repeatedly refused to appear before a DCMS Committee in the UK to respond to queries on Facebook's conduct before, during and after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, we aren't really holding on to our horses.

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