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In a privacy case in Spain, Facebook was fined €1.2M (~$1.4M) for an array of violations for data-harvesting activities. The fines were levied for collecting valuable personal information without user consent. The Spanish Information Regulator delivered this fine in a case that has global implications.
The regulator found Facebook collects information on political ideology, sex, religious beliefs, travel locations, friends and enemies, personal tastes and activities, without “clearly informing a user about a use and purpose”.
Facebook’s use of web browsing cookies was also found in violation of privacy laws, by not telling users that simply by visiting other websites with a Facebook “Like” button – that their web browsing activities to those other websites – are being recorded as well.
The regulator also stated that Facebook does not delete harvested information once it has finished using it, and in fact, “retains it for future data collection on that same user”.
“Regarding information retention, when a user has deleted his comment and requests a deletion of information, Facebook maintains that personal information for more than 17 months by a deleted comment cookie. Therefore, the regulators consider that personal information of users are not canceled in full when a user categorically requests their removal.”
The Spanish regulatory body, AEPR, states that it was in communication with data privacy bureaus in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, that are also investigating Facebook’s data privacy practices. The judgement also stated that Facebook’s 2015 Revised Privacy Statement pronounced that Facebook’s process contained “generic and misleading terms”.
The regulator asserted that the majority of Facebook users are totally unaware of “the massive collection of data, nor of their storage and successive treatment, nor of how that data will be used”.
The fine levied by the AEPR was just a small amount for Facebook whose 2016 income was $27.64BN. But the primary purpose was “to place Facebook on notice that Spain is watching their privacy violations, and will work in concert with other nations in punishing such violations.”
The regulator also stated that as investigations move forward, additional violations could be added that may push fines into the billions of dollars. And, of course with other countries pursuing their own legal remedies, this has the potential of equaling or passing the massive fines and international regulatory punishment that Microsoft faced in the early 2000’s.
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