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The Australian Information Commissioner (AIC) has launched action against Facebook. It alleges that Facebook has committed serious and/or repeated interferences with privacy in contravention of Australian privacy law.

Facebook sued by the Australian Information Commissioner – join the queue as ACCC wants a go as well over alleged Digital Platforms breaches.

The AIC alleges that, from March 2014 to May 2015, Facebook disclosed the personal information of 311,127 Australian Facebook users of This Is Your Digital Life. This is in breach of Australian Privacy Principle Six.

Most of those users did not install the app themselves. Their personal information was disclosed via their ‘friends’ use of the app. In fact, documents reveal that just 53 Australians installed the app.

AIC maintains that Facebook did not take reasonable steps to protect its users’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure. This is in breach of Australian Privacy Principle Eleven.

Commissioner Angelene Falk considers that these were systemic failures to comply with Australian privacy laws

The data collected by the This Is Your Digital Life app was for Cambridge Analytica for political profiling – not the disclosed purpose of the app.

Data included people’s names, dates of birth, email addresses, city location, friends list, page likes and Facebook messages for those who had granted the app access to the messages.

Falk said

“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.”

Facebook sued by the Australian Information Commissioner

The Federal Court can impose a civil penalty of up to $1,700,000 for each serious and/or repeated interference with privacy (as per the penalty rate applicable in 2014–15).

In the UK, Facebook was fined £500,000 for the breach. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission fined the company US$5bn. Facebook sued by the Australian Information Commissioner is just one of many actions to come.

What does Facebook sued by the Australian Information Commissioner mean?

First, that only 53 Australia’s installed the app, but Facebook’s creeping cancer extended that to 311,127 ‘friends’ in their contacts. Facebook’s access to your contacts is just plain wrong. Not to mention that many store their logins and passwords in ‘Contacts’ so Facebook has that too! Change your passwords now.

Next, Facebook sells data. In this case, it was fully aware that it was to manipulate its user’s political preferences. Nasty, underhanded and plain wrong.

Finally, it points to a fundamental ethical flaw in Facebook’s CEO and its board – for even considering the use of personal data in that manner.

You cannot trust Facebook with your personal data and your life, not now, not ever.

Facebook sued by the Australian Information Commissioner

And remember that it is not just what Facebook knows about you – personally identifiable information. It is psychographic characteristics (how you feel, what you like, sentiment, your attitudes, etc.), that are Facebook’s real gold. Or as Facebook calls it a ‘warm to hot prospect’.