District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, claiming that the Facebook creator should be held financially liable for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
The complaint was filed in DC Superior Court and seeks civil fines as well as restitution or damages from Zuckerberg.
“We’re suing Mark Zuckerberg for his role in Facebook’s misleading privacy practices and failure to protect millions of users’ data,”
“Our investigation shows extensive evidence that Zuckerberg was personally involved in failures that led to the Cambridge Analytica incident. This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary. Misleading consumers, exposing their data, and violating the law come with consequences, not only for companies that breach that trust, but also corporate executives.”Racine on Twitter
According to Racine’s lawsuit, Zuckerberg was the brains behind Facebook’s 2010 decision to open up the Facebook Platform to third parties. This change allowed developers to access the massive trove of user data that Facebook had collected through the “side door” of applications, the lawsuit continuing:
Zuckerberg had always been aware that the success of Facebook hinged on convincing users that their data was private enough, while selling as much access to those users as possible without driving them away. And Zuckerberg was fully aware that users would be concerned by this newly vulnerable position. So Zuckerberg engaged in a decade-long campaign designed to convince users that Facebook cared about and tried to protect users and their data. Behind closed doors however, Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook’s policies be “as simple as we can get away with.” Given that Facebook’s platform was designed to allow abuse, Zuckerberg’s company largely operated without proper safeguards in place to protect users: policy enforcement was lax, review of app violations was inconsistent or subjective, and the policies themselves were unclear and confusing.Racine
According to Racine’s lawsuit, the political consulting business “Cambridge Analytica utilized the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and control the outcome of a United States presidential election.” Cambridge Analytica knew it could access user data “using Facebook’s existing developer tools, an open secret that was well known to Facebook’s business partners using the platform,” and that “it could leverage Facebook’s lax policy enforcement to continue manipulating the Facebook data it had amassed without fear Facebook would do anything about its operations.”
All the while, Racine claimed, Facebook and Zuckerberg were attempting to persuade users through user-facing assurances that their data was secure.
The AG said that Zuckerberg was accountable for “Facebook’s inconsistent actions regarding privacy, including deceptive trade practices, misrepresentations, and ambiguities that violate the CPPA [DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act].” False representations to Facebook users about privacy, failure to inform users that personal information could be shared with third-party applications without their knowledge or affirmative consent, and “Facebook’s failure to tell consumers for over two years that their personal information was improperly harvested and sold” to Cambridge Analytica are among the alleged violations.
According to the complaint, “whistleblower Christopher Wylie publicly revealed that… Cambridge Analytica—a London-based electioneering firm—exfiltrated the personal data of more than 70 million Facebook users in the United States, including more than 340,000 District residents, in order to influence the results of the 2016 United States presidential election.”
Cambridge Analytica, according to Racine’s complaint, utilized the data to target political ads and “received millions of dollars from the Ted Cruz presidential nomination campaign and later the Donald Trump presidential campaigns to provide digital advertising services during the 2016 Election.”