/ Technology

Update: has Facebook lost your trust?

Facebook is facing a £500,000 fine and the parent company of Cambridge Analytica has been put on notice that it faces a criminal prosecution. Can we still trust the social giant?

Update 18/02/19: Facebook Regulation

MPs are calling for the urgent regulation of Facebook following the House of Commons’ report into fake news.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which we explained below back in July, formed a key part of the evidence in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report.

Original Convo 11/07/18

Facebook has been put on notice by the Information Commissioner’s Office that it could face a fine of £500,000 after its investigation concluded that Facebook broke the law by failing to look after the information of its users.

This is one of the results of the investigation by ICO, which is the data protection regulator in the UK, into the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

Maximum fine

It’s a measure of how seriously the ICO takes its findings that this is the first time it has said it intends to impose that maximum. The only other firm to have been fined that much is TalkTalk, which has been fined twice by the ICO for data breaches, with both fines together totalling £500,000.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said on Wednesday that her office was also going to bring a criminal action against SCL Elections, the now defunct parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

How all this plays out is anyone’s guess – experts have raised some reservations about what the eventual outcomes might actually be – but there’s no doubt that the ICO takes what went on with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica very seriously.

It’s worth pointing out that Facebook has taken steps to make sure what happened with Cambridge Analytica can’t happen again: in 2014 it shut down the ability of third-party apps to access the data of the friends of people who had installed the app, and more recently Mark Zuckerberg said that an app’s developers wouldn’t be able to access your information if you hadn’t used the app for three months or more.

Access to data

As well as the news from the data protection regulator today, news also broke that some apps had more access to the data of users’ friends than had been previously thought – and, according to an allegation in Wired, one of those apps was Mail.ru, a Russian internet giant.

Mark Zuckerberg had flagged up in evidence to US lawmakers that some apps had had their access to the data of third parties extended by Facebook to give them time to comply with the new, tighter, rules. Plus, according to Wired, the Russian group was given access beyond the end of that official cut-off point in order to allow them to comply.

Given the concern about potential Russian government hacking, the news that Russian organisations were given access to third party data until May 2015 and beyond the cut-off point is, to say the least, concerning.

Facebook told Wired that Mail.ru’s apps haven’t had access to other people’s data since May 2015.

Stories like this remind us that it’s very difficult to know not only how Facebook uses and looks after your data, but also how third parties who have access to that data safeguard it. So it wasn’t a surprise when the research for our recent report, Control, Alt or Delete? found that most of us don’t have a clear or detailed understanding of how our data is used, and that many were actively shocked when they found out about the extensive ecosystem built on the data we provide in return for services such as Facebook.

How do you feel about Facebook now we know that the ICO has concluded that it broke the law? Do you think the safeguards put in place by Facebook since they first found out about what had happened with Cambridge Analytica are good enough? How do you think Facebook could do better?

Phil says:
11 July 2018

Facebook hasn’t lost my trust because I never had any trust it to begin with.

The fine is derisory.

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Phil says:
11 July 2018

Yes; I also heard him describe his customers as “dumbf*cks”.

Facebook should’ve collapsed overnight after that.

Phil says:
12 July 2018

I appreciate that Kate but a £500,000 fine to a company that made a profit of $4.3 is hardly going to hurt and I don’t get the impression that Zuckerberg is going to be overly upset.

I agree. I would rather see people removed from office and banned from holding any position of responsibility in future.

FB is one of the new breed of ‘Transnats’, the term coined by Kim Stanley Robinson in his Mars Trilogy. Twitter, Apple, M$ and others are examples of companies that make so much money and are so huge that no single country can exert adequate control.

Robinson (and other SciFi authors) saw the Transnats effectively becoming global governments without the benevolence associated with some democracies. I suspect FB is a good example of that development.

They herald a new era for the human race, I believe. Whether this will be an era with positive benefits remains to be seen but the various theories of Capitalism all seem to agree on the need to keep the consumer base at least alive and with sufficient funds to permit wealth to accrue. But I’m unsure if that can be maintained indefinitely.

I understand the maximum fine now is 4% of turnover, If that were imposed it might have more of a deterrent effect. How we assess turnover (just in the UK?) and how we would extract the money I don’t know.

I would like to see similar penalties applied to Amazon, for example, for participating in the promotion and sales of illegal and dangerous products – CO alarms and 2-pin plugs on products for example – and Whirlpool for the appalling way they dealt with dangerous tumble dryers.. But they are probably too big to upset. Which? seem quite unwilling to tackle these problems in an effective way.

As you have pointed out Kate, Facebook faces a £500k fine in the UK. It will be interesting to see what is paid after they have had the opportunity to appeal. I recall that earlier in the year there was mention of the possibility that Facebook could face somewhat larger fines: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/10/facebook-could-face-huge-fines-in-theory-trillions-of-dollars.html I’m not entirely convinced that this will happen.

I assumed it was the maximum fine per offence. Has Facebook committed only one offence?

A £100k fine per offence would seem appropriate in this instance [plus the usual victim support surcharge of course].

Quite right. When you commit a burglary I assume you can get fined/incarcerated for parking on the double yellows, damaging property when you break in, theft, speeding when you flee resisting arrest .when caught and swearing at a police lady. All part of the one event. 🙁

The victims should benefit from the FB penalty. I suggest that the overall penalty should cover all the costs of the investigation, a large fine (enough to deter) and a fixed sum to each person affected. Lets say £100 each in redress. Apparently “it emerged that an app had harvested 50 million Facebook users’ data without their knowledge or permission. which would be £5bn – plus the fine and costs. Seems a reasonable way to deter future misdemeanours, even if FB went bust. Would we miss them? Not me.

If fining is the Information Commissioner’s last resort, what are the first, second and third resorts that the ICO has attempted – but failed – to pin on Facebook? No longer likey, perhaps? I’ll stop following you, MZ? Won’t be your friend any more? Pathetic.


Transgnats would be more appropriate.

And I also never trusted FB in the first place.

Indeed. It took a lot for me to even consider starting a FB group.

“As first noted by The New Scientist and Animal New York, Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the News Feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods. If there was a week in January 2012 where you were only seeing photos of dead dogs or incredibly cute babies, you may have been part of the study. Now that the experiment is public, people’s mood about the study itself would best be described as “disturbed.”

Congratulations to all those media outlets who leapt onto the Facebook wagon and gave it a legitimacy that it had never earned or deserved. After being sanctioned by the likes of the BBC and Which? it is hardly surprising that people assumed it was a respectable organisation.

The report seems to have some very good substance …

and I will read it in detail later.

Unfortunately Which? itself has embarked on something similar to this :
” The commercial context to opacity
Businesses have allowed, even encouraged, consumer ignorance and confusion
about how their data is collected and used, as their business practices have
quietly tested the boundaries of ethics, legality and consumer acceptance. ”

If this seems an extravagant connection look at how hard it is to find Which? pricing all in one place, the 9 years plus it took to tell subscribers that Which? was earning money from pricerunner.com/amazon – though of course not how much. The use of Best Buy in a rather indiscriminate way when other bodies understand the meaning of “Best” as an absolute, and use Recommend or Good Choice for the bulk of the good stuff. I realise that Which? makes money from selling the Best Buy logo but it is an indefensible practice.

If a charity is to take a hard look at people being kept in ignorance then perhaps it should make sure it lives the behaviours that consumers need.

Having said that anytime Which? provides some serious output I am pleased that there flickers a flame of the Consumers’ Association.

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I think when you have a virtually-guaranteed income of £100m a year from subscriptions you have a pretty sound financial base on which to do the work Which? should be doing. Putting that at risk by using dubious (in)competency at playing with money making schemes is irresponsible, as is the pay structure at senior level that makes the name “charity” a joke.

I see that Which? Mortgage Advisers pays bonuses of up to 50% to its staff. It bothers me when I see incentives like this for people just doing their job – it can distort their approach. In fact I dislike substantial bonuses generally.

What I’d like to see is Which?’s efforts being invested in building up a greater membership to further increase its annual income and its following.

What this has to do with FB I’m not sure though 🙁

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Why not include the link at the outset?

Phil says:
12 July 2018

I’m not sure what point Dunan is trying to make, I think a degree of cynicism towards the media is a good thing. I’d be worried if people had total faith in it.

Whilst faith in the traditional media is low it is improving whilst that for social media platforms such as Facebook is even lower and, deservedly, getting worse.


I wonder if the Facebook issue might trigger the start of real efforts to stop organisations collecting information that is not strictly necessary to provide us with a service.

Does anyone really need Facebook? Does any user not realise their personal data and contacts will be exploited? It’s their choice. I know peer pressure drives it, and quitting is not so easy as it sounds for the committed, but all fads have their time and then expire. Let’s take back control.

FBexit then.

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Duncan – I found your text on


Which begins with:

“Before you continue…

TechCrunch is now part of the Oath family. We (Oath) and our partners need your consent to access your device, set cookies, and use your data, including your location, to understand your interests, provide relevant ads and measure their effectiveness. Oath will also provide relevant ads to you on our partners’ products.”

So pretty much a nice example of the pot calling the kettle black there 😉

David Waller says:
19 February 2019

I place no trust in an organisation which encourages you to reveal much about yourself and then sells that knowledge to people who bombard you with targeted advertising and spam.
I also don’t trust their right wing politics or their community standards, which are breathtakingly hypocritical. I won’t post anything that I wouldn’t want broadcast.

Sylvia says:
19 February 2019

I lost trust when I heard the news last year having read up Facebook security and personal data that they hold about each registered member at the time of becoming a member .Also had and have agreed to their privacy about us and they swear by their commitment as we had to the same to Facebook (Google) .This year I undone my registration with Google apps like Facebook ,Twitter ,UTube ect: So you can see how ifelt about all this (discussed )


Perhaps one way Which? could approach this is to tell people not to believe anything they see on Facebook unless and until they get their act together.

An unfortunate aspect of this is that it confirms that Facebook is incredibly influential and commands so much marketing power that sellers of certain types of product are happy to go to such lengths and expense in order to boost sales.

Is there an easy way to tax product reviews on social media, marketplace sites and retailers’ websites without detriment to consumers?

The effulgent descriptions of cheap and basic products on Amazon, often repeated across a number of sellers of the same item, are bad enough without having to winnow the wheat from the chaff in the reviews.