Australian Facebook data likely caught in scam

Angus Livingston, AAP senior political writer
(Australian Associated Press)


Malcolm Turnbull’s cyber security chief says it’s likely Australians have been caught up in the Facebook data scandal, as Bill Shorten took aim at political operatives seeking to invade privacy.

Political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica is facing claims it used data from 50 million Facebook users to develop controversial political campaigns for Donald Trump and others.

Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has asked Facebook to find out if any personal information of Australians was involved.

National cybersecurity adviser Alastair MacGibbon says online giants like Facebook need to start acting in line with community expectations.

“If you do some simple maths … I’d say it’s likely that Australians are caught up in this,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“Increasingly the public is saying, ‘Hey I have given you a lot of data. I expect you to treat it with respect’.

“But you can’t make $13 billion a year monetising that data and then tell those same customers – that’s just from advertising by the way – that you’re treating their data with respect.”

Mr MacGibbon refused to offer Australian political parties advice on using firms such as Cambridge Analytica.

“But everyone, of course, needs to make sure they’re careful about where the information they’re using comes from,” he said.

Mr Shorten said it was outrageous that “ruthless conservative political operatives” could invade people’s privacy to manipulate elections.

“Facebook’s fantastic. Millions of Australians are on Facebook. It should be a way where individuals can communicate with their family and friends, and other individuals,” the Labor leader told reporters in central Queensland on Wednesday.

“But it shouldn’t be a source of inviting corporate manipulation into people’s households through the sort of trap-door of your Facebook account.”

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the allegations reported overseas were a concern, and privacy laws applied to social media in Australia.

“This is an area where we need to keep laws under constant review,” he told Sky News.

“We have commissioned the ACCC to undertake an inquiry into the market of social media organisations, to look at the market influence they have, particularly in regard to media.”

Meanwhile, the Gold Coast City Council plans to mine the Facebook data of Commonwealth Games visitors who use the social media network to log into free wifi, but says use of the information will be limited.


Facebook could face fines for Aussie data

Facebook could be fined if Australians’ personal information was given to controversial researchers Cambridge Analytica, the privacy watchdog says.

Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim says he is aware profile information was taken and used without authorisation.

“My office is making inquiries with Facebook to ascertain whether any personal information of Australians was involved,” Mr Pilgrim said on Tuesday.

“I will consider Facebook’s response and whether any further regulatory action is required.”

Cambridge Analytica is facing claims it used data from 50 million Facebook users to develop controversial political campaigns for Donald Trump and others.

The Privacy Act allows the commissioner to apply to the courts for a civil penalty order if it finds serious breaches of the law.

Facebook has hired a digital forensics firm to audit Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly used data from a personality quiz to create political campaign tools.

“If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” Facebook said in a statement.

But Facebook hit back at claims it was a “data breach”, saying users willingly handed over their information, and the information of their friends.

“Everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” Facebook said.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told parliament on Monday he would seek advice on laws preventing companies illegally accessing Australians’ private information.

Cambridge Analytica is understood to have met with the Liberal party in a bid to sell their services in Australia.

Labor’s national security spokesman Mark Dreyfus said digital platforms have to comply with privacy laws.

“I want to hear from Facebook whether it’s anyone in Australia who has had their data removed in this way,” he told ABC radio.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John says Privacy Act exemptions for political parties and members of parliament should be removed in the interest of Australian democracy.

“When we’re talking about data mining on this scale and its application to voter-targeting, we’re talking about a very real threat to the integrity of Australian elections,” Senator Steele-John said.

“Facebook allowed, and possibly still allows, data mining or harvesting on this scale to go on.”

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is also investigating the breach, promising it will be “far reaching” and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it would be “pursued vigorously”.


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