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Fine imposed on Facebook over user privacy - United Kingdom lawmaker

11 July 2018

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has been investigating the harvesting of Facebook users' data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The penalty could be just the first in what might become several fines for Mark Zuckerberg as the Information Commissioner's.

Social media giant Facebook was dealt a blow this morning when a prominent United Kingdom watchdog said it planned to impose a maximum fine on the company for two breaches of the Data Protection Act. "But this can not be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law", ICO's information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said in a statement.

Damian Collins MP, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that has been investigating Cambridge Analytica, said: "Given that the ICO is saying that Facebook broke the law, it is essential that we now know which other apps that ran on their platform may have scraped data in a similar way".

Facebook came under fire earlier this year after media outlets reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm based in London, had secretly harvested user data that it then used to try and manipulate public opinion.

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix REUTERS/Henry Nicholls Facebook has a chance to respond to the ICO before a final decision is made on the fine.

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"A significant finding of the ICO investigation is the conclusion that Facebook has not been sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign", Denham wrote, according to the Post. "We're reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon".

OAIC is conducting its own investigation into whether Facebook breached the Privacy Act, which obligates organisations to ensure customers are notified about the collection and handling of their personal information.

The U.K.'s probe adopted a wide lens, focusing not only on Facebook but the ecosystem of players - totaling 172 organizations and 285 individuals - involved in the collection and sale of data about web users for political purposes.

"The company has consistently failed to answer the questions from our committee as to who at Facebook was informed about it".

The watchdog also announced plans to a bring a criminal action against Cambridge Analytica's defunct parent company SCL Elections.

As such it has served Facebook with a notice of intent to fine the biz, and if the sum is coughed up by the web giant as expected, it will be the biggest fine issued by the ICO.