Washington, DC’s AG is suing Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica

The District of Columbia has just announced fresh litigation targeting Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, for his role in the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse episode — alleging it has evidence the Facebook founder was personally involved in the failures that led to the incident.

The District is alleging breaches of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) and seeking to hold Zuckerberg personally responsible for failing to protect Facebook users’ information from being extracted by a data analysis company that some of the tech giant’s own staffers referred to as “sketchy”, in an internal email in 2015 — although Facebook did not suspend Cambridge Analytica’s account until years later, after the scandal went global.

The suit further alleges that Facebook mislead consumers into believing their information was safe in its hands.

Per the complaint filing, the District said it obtained evidence pertaining to Zuckerberg via discovery in another litigation it filed against the company now known as Meta, back in December 2018 — also related to Cambridge Analytica.

The data analysis company infamously sought to extract Facebook users’ information to try to predict voter habits in order to run targeted ads in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign — doing so without most of the users knowledge or consent.

When the story turned into a global scandal in 2018 it hammered Facebook’s stock price and led the company to claim it would undertake a series of privacy audits and reforms. Although the tech giant has been less loud in detailing any follow up.

A investigation by the UK’s data protection watchdog led to a £500k fine in mid 2018 which later turned into a settlement in which Facebook paid up but without admitting liability.

In July 2019, it also settled with the FT,C which had been examining whether the scandal violated a 2012 consent decree under which Facebook had committed to engage in better privacy protection of user data — with the tech giant paying $5BN for what some industry watchers warned looked akin to a ‘get out of jail card’ for its senior execs.

At the time, two dissenting FTC commissioners attacked the settlement for giving Facebook’s top execs blanket immunity in relation to their role in the scandal — and for giving the company broad immunity for known and unknown violations.

So it’s essentially been left to States’ AGs to pursue public interest litigation over the scandal — including trying to press a complaint against Facebook’s founder himself.

“Our investigation shows extensive evidence that Zuckerberg was personally involved in failures that led to the Cambridge Analytica incident,” tweeted attorney-general Karl Racine today, announcing the fresh suit.

“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,” he added.

Whether the latest Cambridge Analytica complaint will make headway in court remains to be seen.

The District of Columbia sought to have Zuckerberg added as a named defendant to its earlier litigation last year but, in March, a Superior Court judge dismissed the request — which likely explains why it’s filed a fresh complaint now.

The earlier litigation has dragged out over arguments related to jurisdiction and disputes around discovery.

Meta was contacted for comment on AG Racine’s latest litigation announcement but spokesman, Andy Stone, declined immediate comment.