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Australia Fines Meta, Parent Company Of Facebook, $14 Million For Secret Data Collection

Australia Fines Meta, Parent Company Of Facebook, $14 Million For Secret Data Collection
A court in Australia ordered Facebook owner Meta Platforms to pay a total of A$20 million ($14 million) in fines for secretly gathering user data through a smartphone software that was marketed as a privacy protector.
Additionally, the Australian Federal Court ordered Meta to pay A$400,000 in legal expenses to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the plaintiff in the civil complaint, through its subsidiaries Facebook Israel and the since-discontinued app Onavo.
Since a global crisis broke out over its use of data analytics company Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 U.S. election, Meta has faced legal issues in Australia relating to its treatment of user information. The fine closes one of those threads.
The Australian Office of the Information Commissioner is still pursuing a legal lawsuit against Meta for its interactions with Cambridge Analytica in Australia.
The decision made on Wednesday concerned a virtual private network (VPN) service named Onavo that the business that was then known as Facebook provided from early 2016 to late 2017. Onavo was promoted as a solution to protect user data. By assigning a separate online address to their computer, VPNs mask an internet user's identity.
However, the judge Wendy Abraham stated in a written judgement that Facebook utilised Onavo to gather users' location, time, and frequency utilising other smartphone apps, as well as websites they frequented.
"The failure to make sufficient disclosures ... may have deprived tens of thousands of Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their data before downloading and/or using Onavo Protect," Abraham wrote.
Since Australians downloaded the software 271,220 times and each violation of consumer law entailed a A$1.1 million fine, the court could have penalised Meta hundreds of billions of dollars, she said, but "the contraventions can be characterised as a single course of conduct."
The penalty amount "carries with it a sufficient sting to ensure that the penalty amount is not such as to be regarded... as simply an acceptable cost of doing business," she wrote. The fine was agreed upon by both parties.
The judge agreed that Meta never attempted to deceive customers, according to a statement from the company. "Over the last several years, we have built tools to give people more transparency and control over how their data is used," the company said.
There were no comments on the issue from the ACCC.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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