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Facebook sued by Australian privacy regulator over Cambridge Analytica scandal

An employee of the Internet company Facebook walks through the courtyard of the company campus in Menlo Park, California.
Christoph Dernbach | picture alliance | Getty Images

The Australian privacy regulator has launched legal action against Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw millions of people's profiles allegedly mined for information.

The Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk lodged proceedings against Facebook in the country's Federal Court on Monday, alleging "serious and/or repeated interferences with privacy in contravention of Australian privacy law," according to an online release published Monday.

Facebook and consultancy Cambridge Analytica found themselves at the center of a scandal around the alleged harvesting and use of personal data in 2018, with concerns that such information could be used to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote.

"We consider the design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed," Falk stated. Facebook had not responded to CNBC's request for comment at the time of publication.

The Australian regulator alleges that personal information from more than 300,000 Facebook profiles was given to an app on the site called "This Is Your Digital Life," and risked being disclosed to Cambridge Analytica for political profiling, according to the release.

The "This Is Your Digital Life" Facebook app was created by academic Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research in 2014, with users paid to take a psychological test, according to a Channel 4 News investigation broadcast in 2018. Information from 50 million Facebook profiles was allegedly then shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Those who break Australia's Privacy Act can be fined up to 1.7 million Australian dollars ($1.1 million) per contravention. The Information Commissioner alleges that Facebook disclosed personal information unlawfully and did not take reasonable steps to protect personal data from disclosure, according to court documents published online.

In September, Facebook suspended tens of thousands of apps as part of an investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, because some of them made profile information publicly available.

Facebook has had to deal with several data and privacy issues, including four antitrust investigations in the U.S. last year.