Facebook owner Meta Platforms has been fined $14 million by an Australian court for collecting user data through a smartphone app without disclosing its actions. The app, called Onavo, was advertised as a way to protect privacy, but it secretly collected data on users’ location, app usage and web browsing for Meta’s own commercial purposes.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought a civil lawsuit against Meta, alleging that the company breached consumer law and misled users about the nature and extent of Onavo’s data collection. The Federal Court agreed with the ACCC and ordered Meta to pay the fine, as well as $400,000 in legal costs.
The court found that Meta’s failure to make sufficient disclosures may have deprived tens of thousands of Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their data before downloading and using Onavo. The court also noted that the fine was agreed by both parties and was intended to deter future misconduct by Meta.
The ACCC welcomed the court’s decision and said it sent a clear message to digital platforms that they must be transparent and accountable for how they handle personal information. The ACCC also said it would continue to monitor Meta’s compliance with Australian privacy laws.
Meta said it accepted the court’s ruling and that it had discontinued Onavo in 2019. Meta also said it had made changes to its data practices and policies since then to improve transparency and user control.
Onavo was one of the apps involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which exposed how millions of Facebook users’ data were harvested and used for political purposes without their consent. Meta has faced legal action and fines in several countries over the data breach, including the UK and the US.