Facebook faces a £500 000.00 (R8,9-million) for breaching data privacy from The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has published a detailed update of the office’s investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

It includes the ICO’s intention to fine Facebook a maximum for two breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.

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.

Facebook has a chance to respond to the Commissioner’s Notice of Intent, after which a final decision will be made.

Denham comments: “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.

“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.”

Denham has also called for an ethical pause to allow government, parliament, regulators, political parties, online platforms and the public to reflect on their responsibilities in the era of big data before there is a greater expansion in the use of new technologies.
She says: “People cannot have control over their own data if they don’t know or understand how it is being used. That’s why greater and genuine transparency about the use of data analytics is vital.”