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Australia sues Facebook in billions, more than what the government makes in a year.

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This article is written by Amanda Yeo for Mashable South East Asia. The link in the original article is here.

Facebook is being sued by the Australian government for allegedly violating the country’s privacy laws, with requested damages potentially reaching US$529 billion. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal may have been years ago now, but its effects still linger on.

According to the suit filed to the Australian Federal Court on Monday, Facebook violated the privacy of approximately 311,127 Australians by disclosing their personal information to the This is Your Digital Life app between March 2014 and May 2015. The developers of the app sold personal information to Cambridge Analytica, which used it for political profiling.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner alleges that Facebook “failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure,” and further disclosed said information for a purpose other than that for which it had been collected. Both are violations of Australia’s Privacy Act 1988.

“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,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said in a press release.

“Facebook’s default settings facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including sensitive information, at the expense of privacy.”

The suit alleged the majority of the affected Australians didn’t actually install the app themselves. Instead, their data was collected after their Facebook friends downloaded the app, giving them no reasonable opportunity to opt out. The OAIC claims only 53 people in Australia downloaded the This is Your Digital Life app.

Each alleged violation carries a maximum penalty of US$1.7 million, which is a significant mountain of cash by itself. But when multiplied by the 311,127 cases alleged by the OAIC, it grows to the almost comical sum of US$529 billion. For comparison, the Australian government’s total revenue in 2019-20 is estimated to be $513.7 billion.

However, the OAIC told the Australian Financial Review that the court could potentially consolidate all these cases into a single breach, which would reduce potential damages back down to US$1.7 million.

Other governments have previously come at Facebook for privacy violations stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company agreed to pay a US$5 billion fine to the U.S. government in 2019, and was hit with a £500,000 fine from the U.K. in 2018. Yet even considering the conversion rate, these are paltry sums compared to the damages Australia has requested.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson said it had “actively engaged with the OAIC over the past two years as part of their investigation” and made changes to the platform. “We’re unable to comment further as this is now before the Federal Court.”