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Facebook data breach investigation latest.

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The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is set to fine Facebook £500,000 for data breaches. That is the maximum financial penalty possible and reflects the severity of the Facebook data breach scandal. The ICO also intends to bring criminal action against SCL Elections, the now-defunct parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

What happened in the Facebook data breach case?

  • Social media giant Facebook and controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica are at the centre of a dispute over the harvesting and use of personal data
  • Questions were raised over whether this data was used to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the Brexit referendum
  • In March 2017, the ICO began looking into whether personal data had been misused

What is happening now in the Facebook data breach investigation?

Yesterday, the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, published a detailed update of her office's investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

The report reveals that the ICO plans to fine Facebook £500,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

The ICO has also said that it is taking steps to bring a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections Limited. While Cambridge Analytica has shut down, the ICO has already said that its directors can still be held liable and possibly criminally prosecuted.

Crucially, the ICO believes that in addition to breaching its own rules, Facebook also failed to ensure Cambridge Analytica had deleted its users' personal data when requested. What's more, while the ICO noted that Facebook had been the biggest recipient of digital advertising by political parties and campaigns to date, it said that the company had not done enough to explain to users they were being targeted as a consequence, or given people enough control over how their sensitive personal data was used. As a result, it seems that Facebook is guilty of two breaches of the Data Protection Act.

So, does this mean Facebook will be held to account?

No. The social media giant still has time to make any representations to the ICO before a final decision is made. However, by publishing a Notice of Intent, it is clear that the ICO is taking this matter very seriously. In fact, based on the evidence so far it looks likely that the ICO will issue Facebook with the maximum fine allowed under British law.

However, Facebook could still get away lightly, because if it had been fined under the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), it could have been hit with a penalty of £479m. Indeed, the £500,000 fine is tiny when stacked up against the firm's value of £445bn.

The impact on political parties

In its report, the ICO raised concerns about political parties buying personal information from data brokers.

Worryingly, Elizabeth Denham has said that: "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."

She also said that the impact of behavioural advertising in elections, was significant and has called for a code of practice to fix the system.

The ICO has also written to all the main political parties in the UK pressing them to have their data protection practices audited.

Who else is involved?

Aggregate IQ

The ICO has said that Aggregate IQ (AIQ), a Canadian company which worked with the Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the EU Referendum must stop processing UK citizens' data. AIQ had access to UK voters' personal data provided by Vote Leave and this information may have been transferred and accessed outside the UK. If so, this would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Emma's Diary

The ICO also named Emma's Diary; a company that gives medical advice and free baby-themed goods to parents who download an app. It appears that the company may have handed over data which was then used by the Labour Party to campaign to people. As a result, the ICO is about to take regulatory action against Lifecycle Marketing, the owner of the service.

Eldon Insurance Services

It has been alleged that the Leave campaign used the personal information of people on the Eldon Insurance and GoSkippy database on the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

Vote Leave

The ICO is looking into to what extent Vote Leave transferred the personal data of citizens outside the UK. It is likely that this was in a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Remain campaign

The ICO is investigating the collection and sharing of personal data by the official Remain campaign (Britain Stronger in Europe) and a linked data broker. In particular, it is examining inadequate third party consents and the fair processing statements used to collect personal data.

The University of Cambridge

The Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge carries out research into social media profiles. As part of its investigation, the ICO is considering whether Cambridge University has "sufficient systems and processes in place to ensure that data collected by academics for research is appropriately safeguarded in its use and not re-used for commercial work."

The ICO said that it expects the next stage of its investigation to be complete by the end of October.