Facebook, which shared personal information of 3.3 million South Koreans without their explicit consent, has been fined for $6 million and is facing a criminal probe. Korean authorities said the tech giant would not cooperate.

The 6.7 billion won (US$6 million) fine was slapped on the social network mammoth by the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC), South Korea’s investigative authority for violations of data protection. Its probe revealed that between May 2012 and June 2018, the company has shared information of at least 3.3 million users with as many as 10,000 other firms without securing proper consent. There are an estimated 18 million internet users in South Korea.

The fine was the first punishment handed down by PIPC since the investigation into Facebook’s behavior was launched in August. During the probe, the tech giant was uncooperative and submitted incomplete or false documents, the commission noted as reported by Yonhap on Wednesday. A separate penalty of about $60,000 was issued by the commission for the falsifications.

The social network said that it “cooperated with the investigation in its entirety” and was looking into the PIPC decision.

Secretive data sharing with select partners was part of Facebook’s strategy to boost market presence and allegedly also boost its bottom line. The practice blew up in the company’s face after it was revealed that the now-defunct British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica used this partnership to harvest Facebook user data and use it for political campaigning.

The social network denied any wrongdoing, but critics said it had been using opaque language and other tricks to co-opt users into agreeing to share their data without realizing what they were doing. Facing blowback, Facebook said it shut down most of its partnership agreements. Ironically, Cambridge Analytica’s reputation for using Facebook-fuelled tech magic to swing elections with targeted ads later turned out to be exaggerated.

South Korea is currently in the process of overhauling its personal data protection laws, streamlining legislation and empowering the PIPC to tackle all cases of alleged violations. The commission said it will refer Facebook for criminal investigation in addition to issuing the fine.

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