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Australia's privacy watchdog has launched legal action against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal

James Hennessy
  • Australia's privacy watchdog, the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), has launched legal action against Facebook in the Federal Court over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
  • The information commissioner alleges the design of Facebook's platform "facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including sensitive information, at the expense of privacy."
  • During the scandal, the personal data of 311,000 Australians was exposed to Cambridge Analytica.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Australia's information commissioner today announced it would launch legal proceedings against Facebook in the Federal Court, alleging "serious" and "repeated" interferences of the privacy of Australian users in relation to the now-infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Australian Information Commissioner alleges Facebook violated the Privacy Act 1988 when data given by Australian users to the "This is Your Digital Life" app – which was at the centre of the Cambridge Analytica outrage – was used for purposes other than for which it was collected. The legal action follows a nearly two-year investigation which has been ongoing since the revelation of the scandal in 2018.

“All entities operating in Australia must be transparent and accountable in the way they handle personal information, in accordance with their obligations under Australian privacy law,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said in a statement published to the OAIC website.

“We consider the design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed. Facebook’s default settings facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including sensitive information, at the expense of privacy.

“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.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal unfolded in 2008, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed the now-defunct data analytics firm harvested information from 87 million Facebook users via the "This is Your Digital Life" personality test, which was then deployed in political campaigns.

One of the problems was the fact much of the data absorbed by the Cambridge Analytica app did not come from users who had directly installed the app on Facebook – rather, their data was exposed by those on their friends list who did use it.

The Information Commissioner is seeking Facebook pay pecuniary penalties for the alleged breaches – which would tally up to a maximum of $1.7 million per breach, under the Privacy Act.

No court date is currently set.

In the past, Facebook has denied the Cambridge Analytica scandal represented a data breach, even as it suspended the company from Facebook platforms.

"The claim that this is a data breach is completely false," a 2018 statement read.

"[Cambridge Analytica founder] Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked."

Business Insider Australia has contacted Facebook for comment.