In what has been labelled the worst privacy crisis in Facebook’s 14-year history, it was recently revealed that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly harvested personal information from millions of profiles on the social media network.
There isn’t much users can do to fix what’s already been done. However, Facebook has made it possible for its 2.2 billion users to review Facebook apps they use and what information they have shared with those apps.
There is, however, some good news for Brits who have been affected by the Facebook data breach. If your data has been misused you can make a claim in the civil courts for distress and receive compensation of up to £12,500.
Here’s a quick look at the situation and how you might be able to benefit financially:
- What was the data breach and how did it happen?
- How to determine whether my security was breached?
- Can I claim for damages caused by this breach?
- How much money can I really get from Facebook’s data breach?
- Where to lay your claim
In 2014, Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist at Cambridge University, developed an app called thisisyourdigitallife. It took the form of a survey which Facebook users could opt in to complete. Data from the survey was then shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Even though it required consent from the user, Facebook’s design allowed this app to not only collect the personal information of people who agreed to take the survey, but also the personal information of all the people in those users’ network.
The data collected through the survey was allegedly used in various attempts to influence voter opinion on behalf of politicians who hired them.
Political events for which politicians paid Cambridge Analytica to use information from the data breach included:
- 2015 campaign of United States politician Ted Cruz
- 2016 Brexit vote
If your data was compromised, you should have received a personal message from Facebook already. The social media company was set to notify all users affected on 9 April.
However, if you’re worried you might have missed it or just want to double check, this page on the Facebook Help Centre will be able to tell you.
If you’re a Brit, you’re in luck!
The Court of Appeal decided that compensation under the Data Protection Act 1998 can be awarded for distress alone. The ruling came as a result of the 2015 Vidal-Hall v Google case.
“This is an important decision because distress is likely to be the most important element of any loss to any private person whose data has been misused,” says Jonathan Compton Partner at DMH Stallard.
Facebook can, of course, defend any claim on the basis that it took all reasonable steps to avoid the breach.
But there is a problem. What if personal details have been lost that does not lead to immediate and quantifiable loss? If our credit card details are lost, we can point to the losses and recover them. But if deeply personal information is placed into the public domain, what then? This is why Vidal-Hall v Google is so important. The court held that claimants can claim for distress alone.
Unfortunately, neither the court nor the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published guidelines on the level of compensation. So, if the parties cannot agree the level, then the court must decide.
According to Compton, the courts have provided some assistance, however in TLT v Secretary of State for the Home Office. In this 2016 case, the court awarded £12,500 for a breach of section 13 of the Data Protection Act. The court relied on the fact that such an award was about the same as for moderate psychiatric injury in personal injury cases.
Furthermore, in a case where a surveyor was negligent, the claimant was awarded £10,000 by the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) for the resultant stress and disappointment when it transpired the house he purchased was under the Gatwick flight path. Apparently, the surveyor had forgotten to point this out.
“So the start point for any award might be between £10,000 and £12,500,” explains Compton.
According to the Daily Star, however, David Barda, a data protection lawyer for Slater and Gordon, thinks the amount would be three figures rather than four.
“I think a much more realistic figure is £500 per claimant,” he said.
If your data has been misused you can make a claim in the civil courts. Alternatively, you can inform the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and make your complaint to them.