The Cambridge Analytica scandal seems far from over as D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced on Monday that he is suing Meta for breaching the privacy of Facebook users. What makes this lawsuit interesting is that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has so far managed to avoid being personally attacked over his role in the data harvesting scandal.
Racine believes that Facebook’s deal with Cambridge Analytica was the first step towards opening up the social media giant’s data to third-party developers.
Zuckerberg Sued by D.C. Attorney General
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed the civil lawsuit against Zuckerberg in the D.C. Superior Court and holds him personally liable for the damages.
Racine stated, “since filing our landmark lawsuit against Facebook, my office has fought tooth and nail against the company’s characteristic efforts to resist producing documents and otherwise thwart our suit. We continue to persist and have followed the evidence right to Mr. Zuckerberg.”
The lawsuit highlights that Zuckerberg sued by DC Attorney General (AG) for his failure to be transparent about privacy agreements and for harvesting data without explicit user consent. This is the second time Zuckerberg sued by D.C. Attorney General over exploitation of user data.
In a written statement, the office of the Attorney General quoted him as saying, “the evidence shows Mr. Zuckerberg was personally involved in Facebook’s failure to protect the privacy and data of its users leading directly to the Cambridge Analytica incident. This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans’ personal information, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook’s wrongful conduct. This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions.”
In 2018, The New York Times had revealed that loopholes in Facebook’s policies allowed the company to share user data with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify and Sony. The Guardian had revealed that Trump’s campaign team had hired Cambridge Analytica to help study voter behavior. The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that the company harvested data of over 50 million users without permission.
In the same year, Racine had sued Meta, then known as Facebook, for failing to protect user privacy and deceiving them about how much data is collected and how it was used. The Attorney General had sought monetary and injunctive relief, including relief for harmed consumers, damages, and penalties to the District. At the time, the Attorney General’s office had asked for better privacy controls and urged Facebook to set protocols in place to safeguard and monitor users’ data.
The Attorney General’s office has been trying to depose Zuckerberg over the 2018 lawsuit but his office has repeatedly stated that he is unavailable. A D.C. Superior Court judge had allowed the Attorney General’s office to question Zuckerberg about his involvement in the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal. Meta’s lawyers have alleged that Zuckerberg has “no unique information” and that the ongoing case is a “transparent attempt to harass.” The quarrel also highlights an “apex doctrine” of sorts that works to shield high-level executives stating that they had little to no control over the information central to a lawsuit.
Facebook’s Rulebook and Lawsuits
The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal allegedly influenced the 2016 US Presidential election and is a serious breach of trust and security. The AG’s lawsuit is part of many other lawsuits against Meta. The social media giant has been previously fined for its unethical practices.
Early this year, a federal judge allowed the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Facebook to proceed. The FTC argues that Facebook used its market dominance to weed out competitors. The agency believes Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp to neutralize competitors in keeping with Zuckerberg’s policy of “it is better to buy than compete.”
In February 2022, Facebook agreed to pay $90 million to settle a decade-old privacy lawsuit where it was accused of tracking users’ online activity even after they logged out. The proposed preliminary settlement was filed at the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, and also demands that the company delete all improperly collected data.
The Texas Attorney General has also sued Meta Inc., alleging that it collected users’ facial recognition data without their knowledge.
The D.C. Attorney General’s office states that as Meta has grown bigger with “revenues exceeding the economies of many nations” Zuckerberg’s decisions have a global impact that affect the lives of thousands of social media users.
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