Social networking giant Facebook has been issued with a provisional fine of £500,000 - the maximum permissible under current law - by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), over the company's part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook became the target of a number of regulatory probes following the disclosure of data abuses carried out by Cambridge Analytica to form what whistleblower Christopher Wylie described as a 'psychological warfare mindfuck tool' targeting Facebook users to influence their decisions surrounding events including the vote for the UK to leave Europe and the US presidential election.
Now, the ICO has reached a ruling: It will issue Facebook a penalty of £500,000, the maximum it is permitted to fine by law, while sending out warning letters to 11 political parties, prosecuting SCL Elections Limited, and forcing Aggregate IQ - a Canadian firm linked to the since-shuttered Cambridge Analytica - to cease processing UK citizens' data.
'We are at a crossroads. Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes,' says Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in support of the plan of action. '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.'
ICO has also issued ten recommendations, as part of a report dubbed Democracy Disrupted (PDF warning), which include a call for the UK government to introduce a statutory code of practice for the use of personal data in political campaigns.
Facebook has been granted the opportunity to discuss the matter further with ICO before the penalty is finalised, and has indicated it will do so.
February 24 2020 | 12:00