Australian Court Fines Meta Platforms $14 Million for Undisclosed Data Collection

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Is your data truly safe? An Australian court just fined Meta Platforms $14 million for undisclosed data collection, shedding light on the importance of transparency and user privacy in the digital age.

An Australian court has ordered Meta Platforms, the owner of Facebook, to pay fines totalling A$20 million ($14 million) for collecting user data through a smartphone application without disclosing its actions. 

The app in question, Onavo, was advertised as a privacy protection tool. Still, it was used by Facebook to collect users’ location, time, and website visits for its advertising purposes.

Violation of Privacy

The fine was imposed by Australia’s Federal Court and resulted from a civil lawsuit brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The court found that Facebook’s failure to make sufficient disclosures about its data collection practices deprived many Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice before using Onavo.

“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 using Onavo Protect,” stated the judge, Wendy Abraham, in a written judgment.

Meta’s Legal Troubles

This fine concludes one strand of Meta’s legal issues in Australia concerning its handling of user information. It is worth noting that Meta is still facing another civil court action by Australia’s Office of the Information Commissioner over its dealings with Cambridge Analytica. During the U.S. election, this data analytics firm sparked a global scandal in 2016.

Onavo VPN Service

The Australian court’s judgment is related to the virtual private network (VPN) service called Onavo, which Facebook offered from early 2016 to late 2017. VPNs are known to obscure an internet user’s identity by providing their computer with a different online address.

However, in this case, Onavo was used to collect user data for targeted advertising, unbeknownst to the users.

Penalty and Acknowledgment

The court recognised that the violations could have warranted much higher fines, given that the app was downloaded 271,220 times and each breach of consumer law carried a A$1.1 million fine. Nevertheless, the court characterised the contraventions as a single course of conduct, resulting in the A$20 million fine.

In response to the fine, Meta issued a statement emphasising their efforts to provide transparency and control over user data. They also highlighted that the ACCC acknowledged that they had not sought to mislead customers.

ACCC’s Call for Transparency

The ACCC Chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, stressed that Australian consumers deserve clear and transparent information about how their data is used, enabling them to make informed choices. This case reminds tech companies about the importance of disclosing data collection practices and respecting user privacy.

The Australian court’s fine imposed on Meta Platforms strongly conveys the need for transparency and accountability in handling user data. Facebook’s Onavo app, advertised as a privacy protection tool, was used to collect user data for advertising purposes without sufficient disclosure to users. 

As technology companies grapple with data privacy issues, this case underscores the importance of upholding user rights and being transparent about data collection practices.

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