Facebook Inc. risks being dragged into a U.K. legal dispute involving almost 1 million British users affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, two years after revelations about the misuse of private data caused a global backlash.
A group — Facebook You Owe Us — sent a letter to the social media giant Wednesday, kick-starting a legal process that may result in a lawsuit. The group said in a statement that legal action would allow consumers to be compensated for the misuse of their data.
The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office last year reached a settlement with the social network giant that included a fine of 500,000 pounds (US$649,000) to end the probe. The ICO had led the European investigations into how such an amount of data — most belonging to U.S. and U.K. residents — could have ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“By failing to protect our personal information from abuse, we believe that Facebook broke the law,” Alvin Carpio, who leads the action, said in the statement. “Paying less than 0.01 per cent of your annual revenue in fines — pocket change to Facebook — is clearly a punishment that does not fit the crime.”
The company reached a historic US$5 billion deal in July 2019 with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle an investigation into its privacy practices stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook said it hadn’t received any documents regarding the U.K. legal action.
“The Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into these issues, which included seizing and interrogating Cambridge Analytica’s servers, found no evidence that any U.K. or EU users’ data was transferred by Dr. Kogan to Cambridge Analytica,” the company said in a statement.
The scandal hinges on a personality-quiz app developed for use on Facebook that allowed access to information on millions of people beyond those who downloaded it.
The possible lawsuit adds to Facebook’s run-ins with European privacy and antitrust authorities, which have intensified since the Cambridge Analytica affair emerged in March 2018. The EU has two early stage competition cases into Facebook’s classified ads service and its data practices, while Germany’s cartel office has targeted the company. The U.S. tech giant remains the target of multiple privacy disputes in Ireland, its EU home.
If the effort succeeds, it will show that personal data is of value to individuals and “that companies cannot simply take it and profit from it illegally,” the group said. “Not one penny of the ICO fine was paid to affected Facebook users.”
A group called Google You Owe Us last year won a boost in a suit filed on behalf of millions of iPhone users against Google over data-collection claims, when London appeals judges allowed their case to go forward.
“Cases like Facebook You Owe Us and Google You Owe Us provide consumers with an essential route to redress,” said James Oldnall, managing partner at Milberg London, the law firm that leads the claim. “The courts are beginning to recognize that personal data has value, and that representative actions are a suitable mechanism to hold companies to account for abusing or misusing that data.”