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Facebook has reached a settlement with the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, agreeing to pay in full a £500,000 (~$ 643k) fine following the latter’s investigating into the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

As part of the arrangement Facebook has agreed to drop its legal appeal against the penalty. But under the terms of the settlement it has not admitted any liability in relation to paying the fine, which is the maximum possible monetary penalty under the applicable UK data protection law. (The Cambridge Analytica scandal predates Europe’s GDPR framework coming into force.)

Facebook’s appeal against the ICO’s penalty was focused on a claim that there was no evidence that U.K. Facebook users’ data had being mis-used by Cambridge Analytica .

But there’s a further twist here in that the company had secured a win, from a first tier legal tribunal — which held in June that “procedural fairness and allegations of bias” on the part of the ICO should be considered as part of its appeal.

The decision required the ICO to disclose materials relating to its decision-making process regarding the Facebook fine. The ICO, evidently less than keen for its emails to be trawled through, appealed last month. It’s now withdrawing the action as part of the settlement, Facebook having dropped its legal action.

In a statement laying out the bare bones of the settlement reached, the ICO writes: “The Commissioner considers that this agreement best serves the interests of all UK data subjects who are Facebook users. Both Facebook and the ICO are committed to continuing to work to ensure compliance with applicable data protection laws.”

An ICO spokeswoman did not respond to additional questions — telling us it does not have anything further to add than its public statement.

As part of the settlement, the ICO writes that Facebook is being allowed to retain some (unspecified) “documents” that the ICO had disclosed during the appeal process — to use for “other purposes”, including for furthering its own investigation into issues around Cambridge Analytica.

“Parts of this investigation had previously been put on hold at the ICO’s direction and can now resume,” the ICO adds.

Under the terms of the settlement the ICO and Facebook each pay their own legal costs. While the £500k fine is not kept by the ICO but paid to HM Treasury’s consolidated fund.

Commenting in a statement, deputy commissioner, James Dipple-Johnstone, said:

The ICO welcomes the agreement reached with Facebook for the withdrawal of their appeal against our Monetary Penalty Notice and agreement to pay the fine. The ICO’s main concern was that UK citizen data was exposed to a serious risk of harm. Protection of personal information and personal privacy is of fundamental importance, not only for the rights of individuals, but also as we now know, for the preservation of a strong democracy. We are pleased to hear that Facebook has taken, and will continue to take, significant steps to comply with the fundamental principles of data protection. With this strong commitment to protecting people’s personal information and privacy, we expect that Facebook will be able to move forward and learn from the events of this case.

In its own supporting statement, attached to the ICO’s remarks, Harry Kinmonth, director and associate general counsel at Facebook, added:

We are pleased to have reached a settlement with the ICO. As we have said before, we wish we had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015. We made major changes to our platform back then, significantly restricting the information which app developers could access. Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook, and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information. The ICO has stated that it has not discovered evidence that the data of Facebook users in the EU was transferred to Cambridge Analytica by Dr Kogan. However, we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the ICO’s wider and ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.

A charitable interpretation of what’s gone on here is that both Facebook and the ICO have reached a stalemate where their interests are better served by taking a quick win that puts the issue to bed, rather than dragging on with legal appeals that might also have raised fresh embarrassments. 

That’s quick wins in terms of PR (a paid fine for the ICO; and drawing a line under the issue for Facebook), as well as (potentially) useful data to further Facebook’s internal investigation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

We don’t know exactly it’s getting from the ICO’s document stash. But we do know it’s facing a number of lawsuits and legal challenges over the scandal in the US. 

The ICO announced its intention to fine Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal just over a year ago.

In March 2018 it had raided the UK offices of the now defunct data company, after obtaining a warrant, taking away hard drives and computers for analysis. It had also earlier ordered Facebook to withdraw its own investigators from the company’s offices.

Speaking to a UK parliamentary committee a year ago the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and deputy Dipple-Johnstone, discussed their (then) ongoing investigation of data seized from Cambridge Analytica — saying they believed the Facebook user data-set the company had misappropriated could have been passed to more entities than were publicly known.

The ICO said at that point it was looking into “about half a dozen” entities.

It also told the committee it had evidence that, even as recently as early 2018, Cambridge Analytica might have retained some of the Facebook data — despite having claimed it had deleted everything.

“The follow up was less than robust. And that’s one of the reasons that we fined Facebook £500,000,” Denham also said at the time. 

Some of this evidence will likely be very useful for Facebook as it prepares to defend itself in legal challenges related to Cambridge Analytica. As well as aiding its claimed platform audit — when, in the wake of the scandal, Facebook said it would run a historical app audit and challenge all developers who it determined had downloaded large amounts of user data.

The audit, which it announced in March 2018, apparently remains ongoing.


TechCrunch

An Indian startup that is attempting to improve the way how millions of people in the nation lease or buy an apartment — by not paying any brokerage — just raised a significant amount of capital to further expand its business.

NoBroker said on Wednesday it has raised $ 50 million in a new financing round. The Series D round for the Bangalore-based real estate property operator was led by Tiger Global Management and included participation from existing investor General Atlantic. The five-year-old startup, which closed its previous financing round in June, has raised $ 121 million to date. The new round valued NoBroker at about $ 325 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

NoBroker operates in six cities in India: Bengaluru, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. The startup has established itself as one of the largest players in the local real estate business. It operates over 3 million properties on its website and serves about 7 million users. It is adding more than 280,000 new users each month, Amit Kumar, cofounder and CEO of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Real estate brokers in India, as is true in other markets, help people find properties. But they can charge up to 10 months worth of rent (leasing) — or a single-digit percent of the apartment’s worth if someone is buying the property — in urban cities as their commission. NoBroker allows the owner of a property to directly connect with potential tenants to remove brokerage charges from the equation.

The startup makes money in three ways. First, it lets non-paying users get in touch with only nine property owners. Those who wish to contact more property owners are required to pay a fee. Second, property owners can opt to pay NoBroker to have its representatives deal with prospective buyers — in a move that ironically makes the startup serve as a broker.

NoBroker also offers end-to-end services such as rent agreements, home loans, and movers and packers, for which it also charges a fee. The startup says it uses machine learning to speed up the transactions and make it service low-cost.

The startup processes about $ 14 million in rent each month, Kumar said. This is increasing by 25%-30% each month, he said. NoBroker’s business in Bangalore and Mumbai, two of its largest cities, are already profitable, Kumar said.

The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its business and build more products. It recently launched a community and digital management app to keep a digital log of all the entries — say a Flipkart delivery personnel comes to your house — occurring in a society, and maintain a dialogue with other people in a vicinity. The app also allows users to exchange goods with one another and pay their utility bills, startup’s executives said.

The new financing round is oddly smaller than $ 51 million NoBroker had raised in June this year. Saurabh Garg, chief business officer of NoBroker, told TechCrunch in an interview that the founding team did not want to dilute their stake in the startup, hence they opted for a smaller round.

NoBroker is competing with a number of players including Proptiger, 99Acres, and heavily backed NestAway, which counts Goldman Sachs and Tiger Global among its investors. NestAway operates in eight Indian cities and has raised north of $ 100 million to date. Budget hotel startup Oyo, which has already become one of the largest hotel businesses in the world, also operates in NoBroker’s territory with Oyo Living.

But NoBroker’s Kumar said he does not see Oyo and other startups as competition. Instead, “these other players are some of our largest clients,” he said. India’s real estate industry is estimated to grow to $ 1 trillion in worth by 2030.

The business model of NoBroker has also created new local challenges for the startup. Brokers are unsurprisingly not happy with startups such as NoBroker and have grown hostile in recent years. In recent years, they have attacked and harassed NoBroker employees. So much so that the startup had to delist its address from Google Maps. But Kumar said the mindset of people is changing.


TechCrunch

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