The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) made global headlines recently when they announced that they intended to fine Facebook £500,000 for their part in the Cambridge Analytica (CA) debacle. The ICO cited two points where Facebook broke data protection laws; firstly, they failed to safeguard user information and secondly, they failed to be transparent about how data was harvest by others.
Taken at face value £500,000 seems a rather toothless fine, it equates to less than 1 pence per user affected, or as The Guardian helpfully pointed out, it is the amount of money that Facebook has made in revenue each and every 5 1/2 minutes of 2018.
The fine does however represent the full weight of the law available to the ICO as it is bound by the Data Protection Act of 1998. Fines for breaches under the GDPR could have amounted to millions of pounds.
Facebook will be given the opportunity to respond to and to contest the ICOs final findings when they are announced in October. And here’s where the incident will get even more interesting – will they contest or not? Let’s face it Facebook could probably rummage around the back of their virtual sofa and find plenty of spare change with which to pay the fine. In the time it takes the ICO to check their bank account, Facebook would probably have earned another half million and so won’t even really notice its gone.
But surely accepting a fine that constitutes the full force of the available law sets a dangerous precedent for Facebook? They do after all have other privacy lawsuits that they’re currently dealing with, including suits that were concern their behaviour on and after 25 May and which would therefore be subject to the GDPR regulations. These suits could well cost them those millions of pounds we mentioned earlier.
Finally, and just as importantly, is the damage that all of this negative press is having on Facebook’s reputation. So far, it feels a little like we all believe Facebook are the baddies, but we’re a bit more interested in what is happening in our feed than worried about what they’re doing with our information. Sure, Facebook have lost some users, but there are still millions of people sharing all sorts of personal details without a second thought. How long can this last? How long before Facebook’s reputation is so bad that people start leaving in droves?