Britain to fine Facebook over data breach

Facebook has admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which was working for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018

Britain to fine Facebook over data breach

  • The watchdog said it plans to issue Facebook with the maximum fine available to it for breaches of the Data Protection Act
  • The British fine comes as Facebook faces a potential hefty compensation bill in Australia

LONDON: Britain’s data regulator has said it will fine Facebook half a million pounds ($660,000) for failing to protect users’ data, in an inquiry into whether personal information had been misused by campaigns on both sides of Britain’s 2016 EU referendum.
An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has focused on the social media giant since earlier this year, when evidence emerged that an app had been used to harvest the data of tens of millions of Facebook users worldwide.
In a progress report early Wednesday the watchdog said it plans to issue Facebook with the maximum fine available to it for breaches of the Data Protection Act.
“The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information,” it said, adding that the company had “failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.”
Facebook has admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which was working for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, which denies the accusations, has since filed for voluntary bankruptcy in the United States and Britain.
“We are at a crossroads. Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes,” Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in the statement.
“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.”
In May, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg apologized to the European Parliament for the “harm” caused by a huge breach of users’ data and by a failure to crack down on fake news.
The EU in May launched strict new data-protection laws allowing regulators to fine companies up to €20 million ($24 million) or four percent of annual global turnover.
But the IOC said because of the timing of the incidents involved in its inquiry, the penalties were limited to those available under previous legislation.
The next phase of the ICO’s work is expected to be concluded by the end of October.
“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015,” Erin Egan, chief privacy officer at Facebook, said.
“We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries. We’re reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”
The British fine comes as Facebook faces a potential hefty compensation bill in Australia, where litigation funder IMF Bentham said it had lodged a complaint with regulators over the Cambridge Analytica breech — thought to affect some 300,000 users in Australia.
IMF investment manager Nathan Landis told The Australian newspaper most awards for privacy breaches ranged between A$1,000 and A$10,000 ($750-$7,500).
This implies a potential compensation bill of between A$300 million and A$3 billion.


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.