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Facebook Fined 'Derisory' $5bn; Not OK Google

July 15 2019

Facebook is to pay US regulators a record $5bn fine to settle the privacy breach investigation following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to US media. Meanwhile Google is in trouble for allowing contractors to listen to snippets recorded by its 'Home' voice assistant.

Duopoly: Getting Out of Jail Free?The FTC has been investigating Facebook's practices since it emerged that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million of its users, and reportedly approved the settlement by a vote of 3-2, with Republican commissioners in favor and Democrats opposed - the latter wanted more restrictions placed on the firm and/or a bigger fine. Although $5bn is the biggest fine ever levied on a tech company by the FTC, and is bigger than the maximum possible under the EU's GDPR regime, some have called the amount 'derisory' and indeed the stock market reacted with a sigh of relief, with the social network's share price adding a lot more than $5bn to the value of the company as a result.

The fine has yet to be finalised by the Justice Department's civil division, with timescale uncertain, and will almost certainly include additional repercussions for the company, such as increased oversight. Facebook must also face congressional hearings this week regarding its new and controversial cryptocurrency, Libra; and may be the subject of antitrust probes - looking at its competitive practices - conducted by the FTC.


Such a probe is apparently also underway at the Justice Department, focused on Google, but the search giant may have a bigger problem, after it emerged this week that it hired outside contractors to listen to recordings from users of its Home voice assistant, leading to a possible investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commission.

Google says around 0.2% of audio from 'Home' is reviewed by language experts with the sole purpose of improving the service. The firm said in a blog post: 'We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data' - the information was leaked to Belgian broadcaster VRT, and Google says it will take action against the relevant individual, adding 'We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again'.

The source of the leak said they listened to more than 1,000 recordings, with 153 of them not apparently intended for the Home assistant at all, not being prefixed with the expected 'OK Google'. Although the excerpts are not linked to a specific account, individuals can be identified as they give personal details when ordering or registering for services. VRT's reporter proves the point by visiting some of the individuals concerned, to shocked reactions. The possibility that the excerpts contain information about children will give an added edge to the enquiry.

All articles 2006-20 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas unless otherwise stated.

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