Australia Sues Facebook, Claiming 311,000 Affected By Privacy Breach
The Australian government is taking Facebook to court over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with claims more than 311,000 Aussies had their data exposed.
The Australian Information Commissioner announced on Monday afternoon it had commenced legal proceedings against the social media giant in the Federal Court, alleging serious breaches of privacy.
The government indicated it could pursue the company for more than half a trillion dollars.
At the heart of the matter is an app named 'This Is Your Digital Life', a personality quiz released online in 2014.
Several hundred thousand people all over the world used the app, which -- allegedly thanks to Facebook's then-lax restrictions on privacy -- collected personal data from those who accessed it and many of their friends as well.
The developers of the app then passed that personal information to another company, Cambridge Analytica, which used the information for political advertising and targeting purposes.
Specifically, a Federal Court filing notice lodged by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) alleged that while just 53 people in Australia installed the 'This Is Your Digital Life' app, 311,074 friends of those people "had their personal information requested by the app".
This would constitute a breach of Australian privacy law, the OAIC said.
The OAIC said it was seeking civil penalties and other "relief" through the courts. The commissioner said, "each contravention within the relevant period attracted a maximum penalty of $1,700,000."
With more than 311,000 breaches, that could put the potential damages bill at an astonishing $528 billion.
Facebook later shut down the app in 2015, notifying millions of users that their data had potentially been vacuumed up.
This led to widespread outrage and scrutiny of the social media company's privacy policies.
After Facebook was fined $US5 billion by America's Federal Trade Commission in July 2019, Australian authorities laid their own court challenge.
"The Commissioner alleges that the personal information of Australian Facebook users was disclosed to the 'This Is Your Digital Life' app for a purpose other than the purpose for which the information was collected, in breach of the Privacy Act 1988," the OAIC claimed on Monday.
"The information was exposed to the risk of being disclosed to Cambridge Analytica and used for political profiling purposes, and to other third parties," it further alleged.
Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said Facebook's platform made it so that "users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed."
"We claim these actions left the personal data of around 311,127 Australian Facebook users exposed to be sold and used for purposes including political profiling, well outside users’ expectations," she said.
In a statement to 10 daily, a Facebook spokesperson said the company had "actively engaged with the OAIC over the past two years as part of their investigation."
"We’ve made major changes to our platforms, in consultation with international regulators, to restrict the information available to app developers, implement new governance protocols and build industry-leading controls to help people protect and manage their data," the spokesperson said.
"We’re unable to comment further as this is now before the Federal Court."
The OAIC accused Facebook of "systemic failures to comply with Australian privacy laws".
It also claimed the social media giant had "been unable to provide the Commissioner with a precise record of the Australian affected individuals’ personal information that Facebook disclosed to the 'This is Your Digital Life' app’s developers."
"It underscores the shortcomings in Facebook’s attempts to protect its Users’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure," it claimed.