An Australian court has ruled that Meta Platforms (META), the parent company of Facebook, must pay fines totaling 20 million Australian dollars or $14 million for collecting user data through its smartphone application, Onavo.
The Federal Court in Australia ordered Meta, along with its subsidiaries Facebook Israel and the discontinued app, Onavo, to reimburse A$400,000 or $270,356 in legal costs to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or ACCC. The ACCC had initiated a civil lawsuit against Meta, alleging that the Onavo app was marketed as a privacy protection tool, but failed to disclose its data collection practices transparently.
During the court proceedings, it was revealed that Facebook used the Onavo app to collect users’ location, time, and frequency of use on other smartphone apps and websites they visited. This data collection was reportedly utilized for Facebook’s own advertising purposes. Judge Wendy Abraham, in a written judgment, stated that Meta’s lack of transparency in its data collection methods through Onavo was a violation of consumer privacy.
Meta responded to the court’s ruling by stating that the ACCC recognized the company’s lack of intent to mislead customers. The company also highlighted its efforts over the past few years to develop tools that provide users with increased transparency and control over their data.
The fine imposed on Meta by the Australian court marks the conclusion of one aspect of the company’s legal challenges in the country regarding its handling of user data. This legal matter arose in the context of Meta’s association with data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 United States presidential election, which sparked a major data privacy scandal.
However, Meta’s legal troubles in Australia are not yet fully resolved. The company is reportedly facing another civil court action by Australia’s Office of the Information Commissioner concerning its dealings with Cambridge Analytica, particularly in relation to its operations within Australia.
The court’s ruling and fine underscore the increasing scrutiny that tech companies like Facebook are facing worldwide over their handling of user data and privacy practices. As regulatory authorities continue to focus on data privacy issues, companies in the tech industry will likely face ongoing legal challenges and demands for greater transparency in their data collection and usage practices.
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