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Australian Lawsuit Targets Facebook for $500B Over Cambridge Analytica

Australian Lawsuit Targets Facebook for $500B Over Cambridge Analytica

Australia’s communications commission is now suing Facebook over its role in the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data breach in allowing a deceptive phone app to secretly invade the privacy of 87 million users from across the globe. 

Although the social media giant was only served slaps on the wrist from the United States FTC ($5B fine) and Britain’s ICO (£500k fine), this new lawsuit could net upwards of $529B in damages, according to a TechCrunch report. To put this into perspective, Facebook’s entire net worth as of writing this report is only $485B, which poses an obvious existential threat to the stability of the world’s most powerful social media empire.

Under the provisions of the Australian Privacy Act of 1988, which establishes civil penalties of over $1.7M per individual privacy violation, the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) could seek restitution for all 311,074 Australians (just 0.4% of all the violated users) who discovered their data was harvested within the firm’s cache network. The types of information collected include names, dates of birth, email addresses, city location, friends lists, page likes, and direct messages which forgo encryption rights if the user unknowingly agreed to allow access, leaving their data critically exposed.

In a statement published on its website, OAIC commissioner Angelene Falk confirmed these proceedings have been lodged in federal court, the lawsuit alleging that Facebook wrongfully provided user data to “This Is Your Digital Life”, an app created by the obscure Trump-linked GSR political firm, which held a contract through Cambridge Analytica. It was revealed this data was later used for purposes outside the original user agreements, thus violating countless privacy laws across the globe and exposing millions of data to their predatory political advertising and any third-party affiliates in their circles.

“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,” Falk wrote. “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.”

When reached for comment, the big tech giants remain ever vigilant to save face. “We’ve actively engaged with the OAIC over the past two years as part of their investigation,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’ve made major changes to our platforms, in consultation with international regulators, to restrict the information available to app developers, implement new governance protocols and build industry-leading controls to help people protect and manage their data. We’re unable to comment further as this is now before the Federal Court.”

“Facebook disclosed personal information of the Affected Australian Individuals,” the OIAC writes in a counter-statement summarizing the case. “Most of those individuals did not install the “This is Your Digital Life” App; their Facebook friends did. Unless those individuals undertook a complex process of modifying their settings on Facebook, their personal information was disclosed by Facebook to the “This is Your Digital Life” App by default. Facebook did not adequately inform the Affected Australian Individuals of the manner in which their personal information would be disclosed, or that it could be disclosed to an app installed by a friend, but not installed by that individual.

“Facebook failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals’ personal information from unauthorized disclosure. Facebook did not know the precise nature or extent of the personal information it disclosed to the “This is Your Digital Life” App. Nor did it prevent the app from disclosing to third parties the personal information obtained. The full extent of the information disclosed, and to whom it was disclosed, accordingly cannot be known. What is known, is that Facebook disclosed the Affected Australian Individuals’ personal information to the “This is Your Digital Life” App, whose developers sold personal information obtained using the app to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, in breach of Facebook’s policies. As a result, the Affected Australian Individuals’ personal information was exposed to the risk of disclosure, monetisation and use for political profiling purposes.”

Should the lawsuit prove successful as it stands, Australia will shock the world in forcing Facebook to pay an actual judicial price for its routine human rights abuses. Unlike the rulings of the FTC and ICO, there’s a critical price to be paid which will force both the company and the broader big tech economy into an existential crisis. We’ll have to seriously consider a world where Facebook, despite a near-monopolistic 75% market share across the entire social media sector, with a combined base of 2.5 billion users across its own platforms, could no longer exist, and there’s just no telling how ugly it could get from there.