Facebook is being sued by the Australian Information Commissioner for a breach of the Privacy Act (1998) (Cth) (Privacy Act). The claim follows from the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ incident in 2018 where the firm used personal information of Facebook users for political advertising in the United States.
In March 2020, the Australian Information Commissioner commenced proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Facebook. In April 2020, the Federal Court, in Australian Information Commission v Facebook Inc  FCA 531, granted leave to the Commissioner to serve the respondents, Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland Limited, outside Australia.
According to the Commissioner’s Concise Statement (Statement), Facebook disclosed the information of over 300,000 Australian Facebook users to the personality quiz app, “This is Your Digital Life” from March 2014 to May 2015. The app was able to request information from Facebook about individuals who had installed the app and from their friends who had not installed the app. The Statement provides that the developers of “This Is Your Digital Life” sold the personal information obtained to Cambridge Analytica. Consequently, the Statement suggests that the personal information was exposed to monetisation and political profiling without the consent of Facebook users.
Breaches of Privacy Law
The Commissioner alleges that Facebook contravened s 13G of the Privacy Act for serious and/or repeated interferences with the privacy of its users. In the Statement, the Commissioner draws attention to the following Australian Privacy Principles (APP).
1. APP 6 – Use or disclosure of personal information; and
2. APP 11 – Security of personal information.
First, the Commissioner alleges that Facebook disclosed information to “This Is Your Digital Life” for a purpose other than Facebook’s primary purpose, to build a social network. Second, the Commissioner also alleges that Facebook did not take the reasonable steps to protect its users from having their information disclosed without their consent.
Implications of the Case
The Federal Court of Australia found that the material had a “genuine argument” and substantial merit to cause the respondents to be subject to litigation in Australia. The Commissioner, Angelene Falk, observed that the Court’s decision would move the case forward to have the substance of the proceedings heard.