Facebook shouldn't be appealing a tiny fine over Cambridge Analytica if it's really committed to privacy regulation, says data cop

  • The UK's data watchdog is calling on Mark Zuckerberg to honour his commitment to data privacy, as expressed in his recent op-ed on regulation.
  • The Information Commissioner's Office said Facebook should drop its appeal of the £500,000 ($653,000) fine over the Cambridge Analytica breach in November.
  • It doesn't look like Facebook is going to budge.

Britain's top data cop has called out Mark Zuckerberg after he published an op-ed calling for tighter regulation of internet companies.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said on Monday that if the Facebook CEO is truly serious about privacy and data protection, then the company would drop its appeal against a £500,000 ($653,000) fine over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"In light of Mark Zuckerberg's statements over the weekend about the need for increased regulation across four areas, including privacy, I expect Facebook to review their current appeal against the ICO's £500,000 fine — the maximum available under the old rules — for contravening UK privacy laws," Denham said in a statement on Monday.

Read more: Years of Mark Zuckerberg's old Facebook posts have vanished. The company says it 'mistakenly deleted' them.

To a tech behemoth like Facebook — which has an annual turnover totalled almost $56 billion last year— a $650,000 fine is a drop in the ocean.

The fine would have been much higher if the breach had taken place after Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. Under GDPR, serious breaches can result in fines of up to 4% of annual turnover— which in Facebook's case would translate to roughly $2.2 billion. In his op-ed, Zuckerberg praised GDPR as a step in the right direction for privacy regulation.

A Facebook spokesman wouldn't confirm if the firm has any plans to drop the appeal, but pointed Business Insider to its original wording, filed in November 2018.

At the time, Facebook's lawyer said that the ICO's targeting of the fine was overly broad, and claimed that the ICO had found no evidence that UK users' data had been sold to Cambridge Analytica.

Specifically, Facebook claimed the ICO found no evidence that the data of British users was shared with Cambridge Analytica by Aleksandr Kogan — the researcher who invented the "This Is Your Digital Life" app which scraped users' data.

"Therefore, the core of the ICO's argument no longer relates to the events involving Cambridge Analytica. Instead, their reasoning challenges some of the basic principles of how people should be allowed to share information online, with implications which go far beyond just Facebook, which is why we have chosen to appeal," Facebook's general counsel Anna Benckert said at the time.

Giving oral evidence to a UK Parliament committee in November 2018, Denham said while it was correct that her investigation found no evidence to suggest UK users' data was breached, that wasn't what the fine was about.

"We fined Facebook because it allowed applications and application developers to harvest the personal information of its customers who had not given their informed consent — think of friends, and friends of friends — and then Facebook failed to keep the information safe," she said. "That is pretty basic data protection."