Australian privacy watchdog launches court action against Facebook, as the government negotiates trade deal that could increase the power of tech companies

March 10, 2019: The Australian Information Commissioner has launched a court case against Facebook for alleged breaches of Australia privacy laws.

The case is a response to Facebook releasing personal data to the personality quiz application This is Your Digital Life in 2014 and 2015, which then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica. The This is Your Digital Life app was not only able to access data from the people that installed the program, but also their Facebook friends.

The Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk said that "We claim these actions left the personal data of around 311,127 Australian Facebook users exposed to be sold and used for purposes including political profiling, well outside users' expectations."

The AIC case demonstrates that technology companies have a history of flaunting privacy legislation and that regulatory reform may be required to ensure privacy rights and consumer protections are appropriate as digital platforms and technologies emerge and evolve.

Yet, the government is currently negotiating trade a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce that could undermine regulatory processes. The agreement could include rules that enable companies to operate in Australia without a local presence and move data across international borders while preventing governments from requiring that data is stored in Australia or that companies provide access to source code and algorithms.

These rules would enable technology companies to move data to jurisdictions with weaker privacy laws and to effectively evade Australian privacy legislation. It would also make it more difficult for government bodies like the Australian Information Commissioner to hold tech companies accountable for breaches of privacy law and other Australian regulation.

For more information see AFTINET’s submission to DFAT and oped on the negotiations for a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce.