In 2018, whistleblower Christopher Wylie shook the world when he revealed that London-based electioneering firm Cambridge Analytica exfiltrated the personal data of more than 70 million Facebook users in the United States, influencing the results of the 2016 United States presidential election. As a result, Washington District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine sued Mark Zuckerberg for his role in the scandal. Although it was dismissed, an ongoing investigation prompted Racine to bring back the scandal.
The attorney general accused Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg of being personally responsible for the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach, alleging that Zuckerberg’s failure to oversee consumers’ data privacy led to the scandal.
“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,” said Racine in a statement. The civil suit, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, claims Zuckerberg violated the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, the District’s general consumer protection law.
“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,” said the attorney general. “This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions.”
The data trove included Facebook users’ ages, interests, pages they liked, groups they belong to, physical locations, political affiliation, religious affiliation, relationships, and photos, as well as their names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
In 2019, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg publicly condemned Cambridge Analytica’s data collection, which, according to Racine, only demonstrates that what they say publicly is part of an intentional plan to mask the devastating consequences of their actions. Since then, the platform was renamed Meta to focus on the metaverse. However, many speculate that the change only served as a means to distance itself from ongoing legal trouble.
With the focus on the Cambridge Analytica case, the complaint accused the social media platform of actively encouraging companies like Cambridge Analytica to use the platform to sway and manipulate consumer behavior. “What is most troubling is that Facebook looked into Cambridge Analytica and determined that it posed a risk to consumer data but chose to bury those concerns rather than stop them as that could have hurt Facebook’s (and Zuckerberg’s) bottom line,” said the complaint. “Instead of coming clean, Facebook continued to help Cambridge Analytica win a United States presidential election.”
Attorney General Karl Racine previously went after Zuckerberg, but the judge dismissed the move, citing that Racine waited too long to name Zuckerberg in the case.