LONDON, United Kingdom — Facebook is facing its first financial penalty for allowing the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica to forage through the personal data of millions of unknowing Facebook users.
A UK government office that investigated the Cambridge Analytica scandal announced its intention to fine Facebook 500,000 pounds ($663,000) for failing to safeguard that user information. The amount is the maximum that the agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), can levy for violation of Britain’s data-privacy laws.
The penalty is a pittance for Facebook, which generates that sum roughly every seven minutes, based on its first-quarter revenue of $11.97 billion. But it would represent the first tangible punishment for the company’s privacy scandal, which tarnished its reputation, temporarily pushed down its shares and forced CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress, but otherwise led to few lasting repercussions.
Cambridge Analytica, a London firm financed by wealthy US Republican donors, worked for the 2016 Trump campaign and for a while employed Steve Bannon, the CEO of US President Donald Trump’s campaign and later a White House adviser.
Facebook said the company illicitly gained access to personal information of up to 87 million users via an academic intermediary, although the firm said the number was much smaller than that. According to former Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower, the firm aimed to construct psychographic profiles it could use to sway the votes of susceptible individuals.
Cambridge Analytica shut down its business in May.
The ICO investigation found that Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information” and didn’t inform its users “about how their information was harvested by others.” The office’s decision isn’t yet final. Facebook will have an opportunity to respond to the findings, after which the office will render a final judgment.
Damian Collins, the chairman of the UK Parliament’s media committee, said Wednesday that the company “should now make the results of their internal investigations known to the ICO, our committee and other relevant investigatory authorities.”
Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, said in a statement that the company is reviewing the ICO report and will respond soon. She added: “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015.”
Facebook faces several other investigations, including others in Europe, a probe by the US Federal Trade Commission and, reportedly, several others at federal agencies such as the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission.