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Facebook appeals Cambridge Analytica fine

The social network says there's no evidence user data was shared inappropriately in the UK, where the fine was issued.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
Facebook app with United Kingdom flag are seen in this photo

Facebook is not being given an easy ride in the UK.

SOPA Images/Getty

Facebook is appealing a fine issued by the UK's data protection watchdog over the company's role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued the £500,000 ($645,000 or AU$912,000) fine against Facebook -- the maximum penalty it's allowed to hand out -- at the end of October against the company for allegedly harvesting user data. But the social network said Wednesday (the last day it was allowed to appeal the fine) that it believed the ICO's decision was unjustified as it had found no evidence that the data was shared inappropriately.

Last spring, The New York Times and the UK's Guardian and Observer newspapers broke news the social networking giant was duped by researchers, who reportedly gained access to the data of millions of Facebook users and then may have misused it for political ads during the 2016 US presidential election. Since then, the company has been trying to strike the right balance between taking responsibility for its actions and defending its public image. How Facebook has dealt with the scandal in the UK has been a particular source of tension for both Facebook executives and UK officials. 

Cambridge Analytica is based in the UK, and yet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly declined to appear in front of Parliament. The country's ICO has been the only watchdog worldwide to take action against the company for allowing user data to be passed to third parties without the right checks and balances in place.

Following its own investigation into the scandal, the ICO said that the data of around 1 million British citizens was "unfairly processed" and that Facebook "failed to take appropriate technical and organisational measures." Facebook was issued the fine, which it believes it should not have to pay.

Here's the company's explanation in full:

"We have said before that we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015. We made major changes to our platform back then and have also significantly restricted the information app developers can access. And we are investigating all historic apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform policies in 2014.

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.

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.

For example, under ICO's theory people should not be allowed to forward an email or message without having agreement from each person on the original thread. These are things done by millions of people every day on services across the internet, which is why we believe the ICO's decision raises important questions of principle for everyone online which should be considered by an impartial court based on all the relevant evidence."

The Information Commissioner's Office did not issue its own statement about the appeal or respond to request for comment.

The next step is for an independent body, the General Regulatory Chamber, to consider Facebook's appeal at a tribunal. If it sides with the ICO, Facebook can then escalate the case to the Court of Appeal.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

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