Social media conglomerate Meta, known for owning and operating some of the biggest social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and the newly unveiled Threads, is in hot water with the Australian government. Its subsidiaries, Facebook Israel and Onovo Protect recently copped a massive $20 million fine after failing to disclose what they were doing with user data. They claimed personal information would be private and protected, but then dispersed this data for commercial benefit.
Onavo Protect, the now discontinued mobile app, provided a VPN service that claimed to give users “peace of mind” when browsing and promised to “keep your data safe online” according to its listing on the App Store.
In 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Facebook Israel and its subsidiaries to court after it found Meta had been collecting information about its users for commercial purposes from February 2016 to October 2017.
In a judgement delivered on Wednesday, Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham deemed the company’s conduct likely to deceive or mislead Australian consumers. The media giant was fined $20 million – $10 million to Onavo and $10 million to Facebook. Meta will also pay $400,000 for the ACCC’s legal costs.
The consumer watchdog found that Onavo was tracking the online activity of its users, recording the exact number of seconds on each app its users accessed, as well as information about their device and location based on their IP address. If the person using Onavo also had a Facebook account, Meta could combine the data collected from both sources and see “nearly everything they are doing on their mobile device”, the ACCC argued. Scary.
The decision comes after Meta recently agreed to pay $1.1 billion for providing Cambridge Analytica access to data from as many as 87 million Facebook users. The company was sued by the Australian Information Commissioner earlier this year for breaching the privacy of 311,000 Australian users.