ICO broadens data privacy investigation to 30 organizations

The ICO has announced it is investigating 30 organizations, including Facebook, to understand how personal data and analytics can impact political campaigning and influence elections.

Following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO was sharp out of the blocks to kick-start an investigation in how personal data has been used in an unethical or potentially illegal manner. While we are usually quite critical about the sluggishness of the public sector, the ICO defied logic by securing a warrant before Facebook had the chance to conduct its own audit of the Cambridge Analytica data. The warrant was granted on Friday 23 March, before being investigators left the Cambridge Analytica offices at about 3am the next morning.

Having dug around the Cambridge Analytica filing cabinets, the ICO is taking the investigation up a step and broadening the number of companies underneath the microscope.

“As part of my investigation into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors, the ICO is investigating 30 organisations, including Facebook,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham

“The ICO is looking at how data was collected from a third party app on Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica. We are also conducting a broader investigation into how social media platforms were used in political campaigning.”

As a result of the scandal, Facebook has brought in a host of changes to how and the amount of information developers can extract from user profiles. While this work has been noted by the ICO, Denham highlighted that only time would tell as to whether this would be deemed sufficient.

Elsewhere in the world other headaches are starting to appear for the social media giant. Alongside the ICO investigation and a grilling in the US, Australia has opened up its own probe into the saga. Australian Information Commissioner and acting Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has opened up an investigation after Facebook confirmed the information of over 300,000 Australian users may have been acquired and used without authorisation.

Back to the UK, details on who the other 29 organizations are unknown for the moment, though this should hardly be a surprising move from the ICO. Scandals are opportunities for politically charged public servants to make a mark in the history books, and Denham has seemingly spotted a potentially catastrophic one here. Widening the net and potentially uncovering more nefarious behaviour is a chance for the Commissioner to make a name for herself. Expect this to be a political circus for months.

Mr Burns takes over as Ofcom Chairman

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced the appointment of Lord Burns as its next Chairman.

Burns will Dame Patricia Hodgson at the start of next year. Hodgson’s predecessor was Dame Colette Bow and the founding Chairman was Lord Currie of Marylebone. You get the picture. Burns has plenty of Chairmaning experience, having occupied that role at Channel 4 for a while, as well as Marks & Spencer, Santander UK, Welsh Water, the National Lottery Commission and The Royal Academy of Music.

“I am very pleased to have the opportunity to take on this role at an important time for Ofcom,” said Burns. “The UK communications sector provides essential services to everyone in the UK and is critical to the future success of the economy.”

“Lord Burns brings with him a wealth of experience and I am looking forward to working together as we deliver on Ofcom’s priorities,” said Sharon White, Ofcom CEO. “I am incredibly grateful to Dame Patricia Hodgson, who has provided expert stewardship to Ofcom as Chairman and Deputy Chairman over the past six years. Colleagues across Ofcom thank her for the contribution she’s made.”

It’s not immediately obvious what the Ofcom Chairman, who is appointed by the government, actually does, but it looks like nice work if you can get it. Burns will get £120 kpa for, hilariously given Ofcom’s current opposition to the term, ‘up to’ three days work per week. Excellent.

Taiwan fines Qualcomm $773 million for antitrust violations

US mobile chip giant Qualcomm has been the recipient of yet another fine for claimed anticompetitive business practices.

This time it’s Taiwan, where its Fair Trade Commission has concluded that Qualcomm abused its dominant position in the mobile chip market for at least seven years by refusing to provide products to companies that didn’t agree with its conditions. The ruling itself is currently only published in Taiwanese, so the specifics are sketchy, but it looks like Qualcomm’s dominance is being used against it.

This is part of a growing number of legal actions against Qualcomm for similar reasons. At the end of last year Korea fined Qualcomm $850 million for very similar reasons. Europe is still in the process of investigating the company, the implications of which could be far greater, and Apple is putting its considerable resources into attacking the entire premise behind Qualcomm’s licensing business model.

As with many tech-related antitrust actions, it’s clear that once a company achieves a certain level of market dominance a different set of rules apply to its behaviour. Terms and conditions that would be considered acceptable in a more competitive environment are considered illegal when used by a company that is considered to be dictating the market.

Qualcomm hadn’t returned a request for comment at time of writing but it’s reasonable to assume it will appeal. The even bigger issue at stake for Qualcomm is not just the growing cost of these fines but its very way of doing business. The licensing model means that Qualcomm doesn’t just get revenue from selling its chips (mainly modems), but also a fee for every product sold that contains them. There is a growing movement opposing that model which must have Qualcomm very concerned.