Australia’s Privacy Watchdog Sues Facebook With Fines Reaching $529 Billion

You think Facebook can be trusted. Think again.

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Photo Credit: Ad Week

Imagine this: You have a best friend that you tell everything to. Because best friends tell each other everything right? You thought you could trust that they would keep your personal information private.

But what if one day they betrayed your trust and decided to tell your secrets to the world? How would you feel if everyone knew about your embarrassing stories?

Best friends are supposed to be trustworthy, a receptacle for your funny stories; comrades and champions who respect the vault of privacy and keep your private info in “the cone of silence”.

Facebook is like that best friend, a space where we are meant to feel safe sharing certain details of our lives and reaching out virtually to those who we can’t be in contact with directly. And boy do we share! All the ups and downs of our daily lives, all the photos, videos, opinions, jokes, dodgy and special moments up there for our trusted circles to see.

Except that Facebook has broken that trust and let our secrets out to the world. The Australian Government is currently suing Facebook for breaching the privacy act in a very public scandal. The Cambridge Analytica case, as it is known, deals with the illegal leaking of 311,137 Australian user’s details to third parties.

Image result for Australian government suing facebook 529 billion
Photo Credit: Interesting Engineering

Let’s put this in context. Facebook has some 3 billion users and counting, which essentially means more than half the digitally connected world is on there sharing every day. A trusted popular platform, the onus is on Facebook to be transparent in the way it handles the personal information we feed it. But the coding and design of the platform meant that users were often unaware or not in control of how their information was shared.

Facebook allegedly disclosed user’s personal information through the app “This is Your Digital Life”, resulting in users’ data being sold to Cambridge Analytica for political profiling. The firm worked with campaigns and other political organisations to predict voting behavior through targeting key demographics based on their data analysis.

This is not the first time Facebook has got into hot water in court for privacy breaches. The UK government received 500,000 euros in 2018, while in 2019 the US government successfully won a huge payout of $5 billion for a similar case. The Australian government is expecting a maximum penalty of $1.7 million to be imposed for each single case, but when multiplied by 311,127, the total figure could sit closer to a $529 billion payout. Ouch.

Since the scandal, Facebook has attempted to right the wrongs. You can now choose to limit your basic profile information such as date of birth, locations, likes and dislikes with the new, more robust privacy settings. But Facebook, just like your best friend, can continue to break your trust. If you think it’s a safe platform to tell all your thoughts to, think again.

My advice? Treat social media like a frenemy, knowing that any info you share could be used in ways you hadn’t meant it down the track. Taking prudent measures with the new privacy settings and choosing not to “overshare”, you can ensure that your information stays within the circle of friends you are willing to share with and reflects only what you are happy for the world to know about you.

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