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Meta, Facebook’s Parent Company, Hit with $14 Million Fine by Australia for Concealed Data Harvesting

Well, well, well! Looks like Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, has been slapped with a hefty A$20 million ($14 million) fine by an Aussie court, all for being sneaky with user data. The court’s got them coughing up for using a smartphone app, which was supposed to protect user privacy, to collect data on the sly.

The Federal Court down under didn’t just stop there. It demanded Meta shell out an additional A$400,000 in legal costs to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). They were the good guys who launched the civil lawsuit in the first place.

This financial blow isn’t Meta’s only headache in Australia. The company’s gotten itself tangled in quite the legal web, mainly from how it’s handled user info following a massive worldwide scandal. Remember Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 U.S. elections? Yep, that’s the one.

Australia’s Office of the Information Commissioner is also hot on Meta’s heels with a civil court action. They’re looking into Meta’s dealings with Cambridge Analytica in Australia.

So, what’s this all about? Well, back in the day (from early 2016 to late 2017 to be precise), Facebook offered a virtual private network (VPN) service, Onavo. They marketed it as a way to safeguard your personal info. VPNs basically give your computer a different online address, so you can hide your real identity.

But, hold on, there’s a twist! According to Judge Wendy Abraham, Facebook used Onavo to gather info about users’ whereabouts, their app usage patterns, and even the websites they visited. All that, just to tailor their ads.

In her judgment, Judge Abraham wrote, “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/or using Onavo Protect.”

She also noted that the court could’ve fined Meta billions of dollars since Aussies downloaded the app more than 271,000 times. Each breach of consumer law could’ve earned them a A$1.1 million fine. However, she saw the offenses as a “single course of conduct.”

Meta and the ACCC both agreed on the final fine, with Abraham remarking that it would be “sufficiently stinging to ensure that the penalty amount is not such as to be regarded… as simply an acceptable cost of doing business.”

Even after shelling out billions last year, Meta insisted they never meant to mislead their customers. In their statement, they pointed to their recent efforts to increase transparency and control over user data.

Meanwhile, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb emphasized that Australian consumers should be able to make informed decisions about their data based on clear information.

And just so you know, $1 equates to roughly 1.4736 Australian dollars.

So, there you have it! Meta’s landed in hot water again, this time, with the Aussies.

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