South Korea Fines Facebook, Signaling Escalating Antitrust Concerns

South Korea Fines Facebook, Signaling Escalating Antitrust Concerns

Last week, Facebook got caught in the web of South Korea’s regulator for sharing users’ private data with different companies, thus increasing the number of countries where the social media giant has got into trouble with the authorities.

South Korean information watchdog, the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC), thus fined Facebook 6.7 billion won ($6 million) for sharing the information of not less than 3.3 million South Koreans with other companies without their consent.

The move marks the first crackdown on the social media platform in the Asian country.

The PIPC said the incident took place between May 2012 to June 2018, and it violated the country’s personal information rules.

The regulatory body which was launched in August this year said Facebook was sharing users’ information when they logged into other companies’ services using their Facebook accounts, and the personal data of their Facebook friends was also shared with those companies without their consent.

According to PIPC, the personal information shared with other companies includes users’ names, their addresses, dates of birth, work experience, hometowns and relationship statues.

The regulator said Facebook was not being honest during inquiry and failed to provide relevant documents. Therefore, the amount of information it shared with companies is not certain.

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But considering that information could have been shared with almost 10,000 companies, a considerable amount of information could have been shared, said PIPC.

It added that it will refer Facebook Ireland Ltd., which was in charge of Facebook operators in South Korea from May 2012 to June 2018 to the prosecution for a criminal investigation.

As part of the penalty, the commission levied separate 66 million won on Facebook for not being honest.

Facebook denied the allegations and said “we cooperated with the investigation in its entirety,” and “we have yet to closely review PIPC’s measure”.

The development was as a result of an investigation that started in 2018 by Korea Communication Commission, South Korea’s telecommunication regulator, and handed over to PIPC after it was formed earlier this year.

South Korea’s action against Facebook underscores its escalating personal data controversy. The Silicon giant has been enmeshed in spats with different governments over how it handles personal data.

The 2018 Cambridge analytica data case, where the information of over 50 million users was exposed, was the major data breach that revealed what the social media company is up to with the personal information it is harvesting from users.

A political consultancy hired by US president Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign as well as Leave EU, a pro-Brexit group in the UK improperly obtained the personal data of 87 million Facebook users, leading to the investigation and consequently the fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Facebook has been, since then, in lawsuit tussle to fight off complaints of stolen individual data. In 2019, the US regulator, FTC, handed Facebook a $5 billion fine in what was known as the largest fine imposed by the Commission.

Critics said the fine was inadequate as Facebook easily paid it and continues with the practice of selling people’s data to the highest bidder.

In 2019, Facebook made $70 billion from ads, accounting for about 98.5% of its global revenue. However, 2020 has seen the California-based company contending with an avalanche of antitrust concerns that have extended to moral issues.

Facebook was accused of aiding hate by allowing promotion of hate campaigns on its platforms for the money. In the wake of racial charged protests over the death of George Floyd, an American killed by the police earlier in the year, the concern over how the company uses people data for targeted ads heightened.

Since then, regulators around the world have stepped up their regulatory oversight on Facebook activities. South Korea’s decision signals a shift in the freedom that Facebook has enjoyed in the region.

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