An Australian court has ruled that Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, must pay fines totalling A$20 million (US$14 million) for collecting user data without proper disclosure. The court also ordered Meta and its subsidiaries, Facebook Israel and the now-defunct app Onavo, to pay A$400,000 in legal costs to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which filed the civil lawsuit.

The misleading data collection case centred around Onavo, a virtual private network (VPN) service that Meta offered between 2016 and 2017. The app was marketed as a way to protect users’ privacy, but in reality, Facebook used it to collect users’ location, time, and website usage data for its own advertising purposes. The court found that Facebook failed to provide sufficient disclosures about its data collection practices, depriving many Australian consumers of the chance to make an informed choice about their data.

The court noted that the misleading data collection could have imposed much larger fines, given that Australians downloaded the app over 271,000 times and each breach of consumer law carried a potential A$1.1 million fine. However, it decided on the agreed-upon A$20 million penalty, emphasizing that it should serve as a deterrent and not simply be seen as a cost of doing business for Meta.

Meta, which reported global revenues of US$116 billion last year, defended its actions, stating that it has worked to provide users with transparency and control over their data. The company also pointed out that the ACCC had acknowledged that it did not seek to mislead customers.

Despite this ruling, Meta still faces additional legal action in Australia over its dealings with data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 U.S. election. The case highlights the ongoing scrutiny and regulatory challenges tech companies face regarding data privacy and user protection.