British regulator to fine Facebook over data protection breaches

Facebook is to be hit with the maximum £500,000 ($663,000) fine over data protection breaches related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Information Commissioner's Office, a privacy and data watchdog office in the United Kingdom, announced Tuesday that it would fine Facebook the maximum allowed penalty of $664,000 for what it said was improperly overlooked warning signs and for lacking overall privacy protections that could have prevented Cambridge Analytica from obtaining the sensitive data, The Washington Post reported.

The social networking giant admitted in April the data of up to 87 million people worldwide - including more than 300,000 in Australia - was harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix REUTERS/Henry Nicholls Facebook has a chance to respond to the ICO before a final decision is made on the fine.

The report sets out regulatory action taken against a number of the star players in this year's data scandal, including a criminal prosecution against Cambridge Analytica's parent biz SCL Elections Ltd - which has since folded, in name at least - for failing to properly deal with the ICO's enforcement notice.

The scandal took place before new European Union data protection laws that allow much larger fines came into force.

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The probe "concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people's information".

"We are fully cooperating with the investigation now under way by the Australian Privacy Commissioner and will review any additional evidence that is made available when the UK Office of the Information Commissioner releases their report", the spokeswoman said.

Facebook's Egan referred to the numerous investigations involving the company.

"The number of Facebook users affected by this kind of data scraping may be far greater than has now been acknowledged".

"We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the USA and other countries", Facebook's chief privacy officer Erin Egan added in a statement reported by the Post. Among the issues they are still probing is an assertion by Cambridge Analytica that it had deleted the data, after the social media giant requested it in 2015. The company has said it plans to do so "soon".

Politicians are calling for greater transparency from Facebook in light of the ICO fine. "It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people's data was harvested by others".

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