Australia sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data sharing

The Australian Information Commissioner alleges Facebook breached the country's privacy rules by disclosing 311,127 users' personal information
  • Reuters (ARN)
  • 09 March, 2020 15:57

The Australian privacy regulator has filed a lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of sharing the personal details of more than 300,000 people to market researcher Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge.

In the Federal Court lawsuit, the Australian Information Commissioner alleged Facebook breached the country's privacy rules by disclosing 311,127 users' personal information through a survey product on the social media company's website called 'This Is Your Digital Life'.

"The design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed," Information Commissioner Angelene Falk said in a statement.

The suit sought unspecified damages, adding that each breach of privacy law could draw a maximum penalty of $1.7 million. The fine would amount to $529 billion if the court awarded the maximum for each of the 311,127 instances.

A representative for Facebook in Australia was not immediately available for comment.

Last July, Facebook was fined a record U.S.$5 billion by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe triggered by the same user personality quiz from 2014 to 2015.

All up, Facebook was accused of inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users globally with the survey tool of now-defunct British firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy's clients included U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

In the months after Trump's election, Cambridge Analytica registered a business in Australia but never went to work for an Australian political party.

In the Australian lawsuit, the Information Commissioner said Facebook did not know the exact nature of the data it shared with Cambridge Analytica's 'This Is Your Digital Life' program, but that it failed to take reasonable steps to protect users' personal information.

"As a result, the Affected Australian Individuals' personal information was exposed to the risk of disclosure, monetisation and use for political profiling purposes," the court filing said.

"These breaches amounted to serious and/or repeated interferences with the privacy of the Australian Affected Individuals," it added.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Michael Perry)