The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Facebook £500,000 for serious breaches of data protection law.

In July, the ICO issued a Notice of Intent to fine Facebook as part of a wide ranging investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.

After considering representations from the company, the ICO has issued the fine to Facebook and confirmed that the amount – the maximum allowable under the laws which applied at the time the incidents occurred - will remain unchanged. The full penalty notice can be read here.

The ICO’s investigation found that between 2007 and 2014, Facebook processed the personal information of users unfairly by allowing application developers access to their information without sufficiently clear and informed consent, and allowing access even if users had not downloaded the app, but were simply ‘friends’ with people who had.

Facebook also failed to keep the personal information secure because it failed to make suitable checks on apps and developers using its platform. These failings meant one developer, Dr Aleksandr Kogan and his company GSR, harvested the Facebook data of up to 87 million people worldwide, without their knowledge. A subset of this data was later shared with other organisations, including SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica who were involved in political campaigning in the US.

Even after the misuse of the data was discovered in December 2015, Facebook did not do enough to ensure those who continued to hold it had taken adequate and timely remedial action, including deletion. In the case of SCL Group, Facebook did not suspend the company from its platform until 2018.

The ICO found that the personal information of at least one million UK users was among the harvested data and consequently put at risk of further misuse.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, said:

“Facebook failed to sufficiently protect the privacy of its users before, during and after the unlawful processing of this data. A company of its size and expertise should have known better and it should have done better.”

This fine was served under the Data Protection Act 1998. It was replaced in May by the new Data Protection Act 2018, alongside the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. These provide a range of new enforcement tools for the ICO, including maximum fines of £17 million or 4% of global turnover.

Ms Denham added:

“We considered these contraventions to be so serious we imposed the maximum penalty under the previous legislation. The fine would inevitably have been significantly higher under the GDPR. One of our main motivations for taking enforcement action is to drive meaningful change in how organisations handle people’s personal data.

“Our work is continuing. There are still bigger questions to be asked and broader conversations to be had about how technology and democracy interact and whether the legal, ethical and regulatory frameworks we have in place are adequate to protect the principles on which our society is based.”

Watch Elizabeth Denham talk about the fine here.

A further update on the ICO investigation into data analytics for political purposes will be on Tuesday 6 November, when Ms Denham will give evidence to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee.

In July, the ICO published an interim progress update on its investigation and also published a partner report, Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence looking at the broader policy issues identified during the investigation along with findings and the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for future action.

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070, or visit the media section on our website.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).
  3. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new data protection law which applies in the UK from 25 May 2018. Its provisions are included in the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act also includes measures related to wider data protection reforms in areas not covered by the GDPR, such as law enforcement and security. The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. However, due to the timing of certain incidents in this investigation, civil monetary penalties have to be issued under the previous legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998. The maximum financial penalty in civil cases under former laws is £500,000.
  5. Under past and current law, the ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  6. Since 25 May 2018, the ICO has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty (CMP) on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover.
  7. The GDPR and the DPA2018 gave the ICO new strengthened powers, some of which, such as assessment notices can be used for this investigation.
  8. The data protection principles in the GDPR evolved from the original DPA, and set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; and
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.”
    • Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles.”
    • Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) under past and current law are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  9. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO. To report a concern to the ICO go to ico.org.uk/concerns.