Social media giant Facebook was dealt a blow this morning when a prominent UK watchdog said it planned to impose a maximum fine on the company for two breaches of the Data Protection Act.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has been investigating the harvesting of Facebook users' data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. It is now estimated that a third-party app used by Cambridge Analytica to collect data from Facebook affected a total of 87m users around the world.
The ICO began by examining the use of personal data by campaigns on both sides of the EU referendum.
Today's update "includes the ICOs intention to fine Facebook a maximum £500,000".Had the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened after the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation, the ICO could have hit the tech firm with a penalty up to £17m, or four per cent of global turnover.
The probe "concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard peoples information. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how peoples data was harvested by others."
Facebook now has the chance to respond to the commissioners notice of intent, after which a final decision will be made.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has previously apologised for the scandal.
The ICO is also investigating 29 other social media companies, political campaigns, parties and other commercial actors over their roles in the EU referendum.
“We are at a crossroads,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement. “Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes.”
Denham also called for the government to introduce a statutory code of practice for the use of personal data in political campaigns, adding that “this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law”.
Facebook remains under the scrutiny of a dedicated select committee on fake news, with chairman Damian Collins recently complaining that the firm “continues to be evasive” in its answers to the inquiry.
Facebooks chief privacy officer Erin Egan said in response to the ICO's report: “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries.
“We're reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”